18th March 2013
Proposed changes to the Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) service could lead to the closure of the Coastguard facility in Portland. This was the message expressed by Dorset County Councillor Tim Munro, and Borough Councillors Ian Munro-Price and Ian Bruce, to South West MEP, Ashley Fox, when he visited the threatened airbase last week.
The Portland SAR helicopter sits in the centre of the busiest search and rescue area in the country. A full 25 per cent of all call outs take place within Portland's operational area. Last year, the base undertook the same number of taskings as the 24-hour base at Lee on Solent; yet Portland is open for only 12 hours a day.
The re-structuring of the service is not all bad news for the South West as the new SAR providers will be moving from Sea King Helicopters in Cornwall to faster and more efficient models. However, despite these improvements the future for Portland looks bleak as the base is one of two SAR helicopters in the country facing the axe; the other is at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland.
“There is always a need to modernise the Search and Rescue service, but I do not believe that an upgrade in equipment should lead to a downgrade in the number of bases particularly as the Portland and Lea on Solent helicopters are already of the modern faster variety,” commented Ashley Fox after the visit. “Portland Search and Rescue has saved hundreds of lives and should be retained to protect our coasts into the future.”
People can show their support and sign the petition started by South Dorset MP, Richard Drax at https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/36619.
Cllr Ian Bruce who was the former MP for our area said he was very grateful for the briefing from Dougie MacDonald the MCA Head of Aviation Operations but he said, “I am even more convinced that we should not be halving the helicopter coverage in this the busiest sector of the UK’s coastline. It appears Ministers are being told putting modern helicopters in the stations that currently have Sea Kings somehow justifies taking our modern Helicopter away.”
Cllr. Tim Munro the County Councillor for Portland said, “The County Council is 100% behind the campaign to retain this very important search and rescue facility at Portland. Portland SAR has been instrumental in many live saving operations. It is my belief without this rapid response, sailors and seafarers lives will be put at greater jeopardy.”
Cllr Ian Munro-Price who is the brief holder for Economic Development said, “In addition to the obvious safety concerns of removing the helicopter, such a move would take millions of pounds and many jobs out of our local economy as well as harming the growth & safety of our successful sailing and diving activities.”