Portland and Solent Coastguard stations close as new centre opens

This week, the UK’s HM Coastguard has finally completed a major piece of reorganisation that has been dogged by controversy and accusals of repeated U-turns. Solent and Portland Maritime Co-ordination Centres, which cover some of the busiest waters in the country, were relocated to a new National Maritime Operations Centre in Fareham in Hampshire. This is all part of a long-running government plan to modernise the service.

The bases in Portland and Lee-on-Solent are to close as the centralised control room starts operations in Fareham in premises originally built for the fire service. From the end of this week, the new centre will control and co-ordinate rescues along the UK south coast from Dover to Falmouth. MRCCs in both those ports take over at each extremity.

Since consultation began in 2011 on what was termed ‘a long-overdue need to bring the way Coastguard rescues are coordinated into the 21st century’ the proposals have met public opposition, centred around the closure of Coastguard stations such those on the Clyde in Scotland, Brixham, Portland, Yarmouth and Inverness, concerns about coastguard lay-offs and a perceived reduction of local knowledge.

The plans have, however, had the support of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). Stuart Carruthers, cruising manager of the RYA, explains: “As far as you and I are concerned, there is no change in the Coastguard’s way of working. It’s about command and control, how they manage the assets; the lifeboats and aerial systems are not changing. I recognise the concerns but I don’t believe they are founded. This is just the management being centralised and integrated.”

The RYA expects benefits from the reorganisation. “It has taken a system that was fairly disjointed because calls couldn’t be passed from one MRCC to another, and made a nationally integrated system that provides far greater resilience from our point of view and really should have been done a long time ago,” comments Carruthers.

Since last year Humber MRCC has been co-ordinating rescues for the majority of the UK east coast from Southwold to the Scottish border. Carruthers comments “That has been working well.”