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Majority of coastguard shifts 'dangerously under-staffed'

MARITIME safety campaigners voiced outrage yesterday after a Tory minister admitted as many as two out of three coastguard shifts are dangerously under-staffed.

Labour MP Katy Clark demanded action from cuts-crazed coalition ministers after extracting the figures from Tory transport under-secretary Stephen Hammond under parliamentary questions.

Brow-beaten Mr Hammond had already weathered campaigners’ ire over the coalition’s closures of Scotland’s Clyde and Forth coastguard stations in 2012, which handed over responsibility to Belfast's station.

But Mr Hammond confirmed this week that Belfast’s own staffing levels had dropped “below risk assessed levels” on 40 of the station’s 60 shifts during April, and 22 of 62 shifts in May.

The admission follows Ms Clark’s previous investigation in January which found that 58 per cent of shifts at Belfast last year were below safe staffing levels.

The member for North Ayrshire and Arran said the region could not afford a risky repeat of last summer’s understaffing.

“We are now in the summer months, which are the busiest time for coastguard services as more people take to the water.

“The government need to take action and fast,” she said.

Coastguard SOS campaign co-ordinator Dennis O’Connor said that Scotland’s local stations should never have been closed in the first place.

“We shouldn’t have a situation, approaching two years on, where the west coast of Scotland is being left at risk.

“[Belfast] is trying to move people around the coast and shore up the shortfall.

“That’s all very well — a person can press a button and answer a call — but they won’t have the expertise or knowledge of that area in an emergency,” he said.

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