SOS :Save Our Coastguard Stations: SOS

Swansea Coastguard Station

New Year 2012 was spent on the Gower Peninsula in Wales and was made more special by dropping in to visit the Swansea Coastguard Station. The seemingly, periously perched Station is situated at Tutt Head, Mumbles and is responsible for a large and hazardous operational area, including Marsland Mouth, North Devon/Cornwall Border to River Towy, Camarthen.

To put things in context with the recent Costa Cruise ship disaster off the Italian coast, have a look at the last post (SOS – Save Our Souls – Please!) and thank goodness that it did not happen off our coast now that we no longer have the four special tugs stationed around the coastline – our first line of defence against any potential oil spills.

Swansea Coastguard Station is currently the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre for the area.  It would be the responsibility of the Coastguard to co-ordinate the rescue attempts that we have watched on the TV and web, should this have happened in their geographical area. And what if they are not there?  What is the proposed alternative?

At the moment, Swansea has many more incidents than Holyhead and Milford Haven stations combined!  A frightening statistic made up of boats overturned/in mud, people in water/stranded, surfers and suicides, to name but a few. Why Swansea is so successful in responding to these incidents is the local knowledge the coastguards have from living and working in the area. It is the same with all Coastguards Stations, local knowledge saves lives.

Wall map showing the large area of responsibility in England & Wales for Swansea Coastguard Station

You would not expect an experienced and knowledgable London cabbie to know landmarks in a place one hundred and seventy-five miles away, so why would you put the lives of people in the Swansea area, in the hands of the Southampton Station? No offence meant to the wonderful people stationed there, but equally, Swansea would no more know their way around Southampton landmarks than the Southampton team would in Swansea’s area.

So, for example, when there are two caves with exactly the same name but in totally different locations and people stranded with the tide coming in ~ which do you go to?  Lives count on the decisions made and, if the person responding to the call has no local knowledge of that particular area, then they may possibly choose the empty cave rather than go to where the stranded people are.  And if the ship or person is at sea and they can only say where they are by what they can see ashore, again, only local knowledge can save the day – and the people! Especially when you realise that the strength of the currents can take people and boats quite a few miles in just half an hour!  So the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) needs to be gauged against the position they will be in, otherwise no-one and nothing will be found.

Not sure how the MCA will be able to achieve the statement on its website;

Our highly trained Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre personnel are ready to respond to emergency calls 24-hours, 365 days a year for the UK coast and surrounding waters. Our primary aim is to reduce incidents through prevention activity, education and improved regulations while maintaining effective enforcement.

Well, they will be able to respond to incidents but not how their vision sees it;

Our vision is to be the best maritime safety organisation in the world, committed to Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas.

At Swansea Coatsguard Station, we met four fantastic team members; all of whom were expert in all things to do with the Coastguard Service and the area of responsibility of Swansea.  It was a privilege to see around the station.

The ‘cave’ is a classic example for the Maritime Minister, Mike Penning, MP for the landlocked Hemel Hempstead constituency, to take notice of.  Would that he would pay more heed to the needs of the people and not the need to balance budgets! The irony of the matter is that Swansea was one of the Stations saved on the first listing, but someone decided to change that for the second listing, even though Swansea met all the original criteria of road and rail links, communication systems and recruitment. Sometimes with civil servants, it really is a question of where has common sense gone! Politics and budgets should bear no part on decisions that may have an affect on our lives, seems morals and standards get left behind.

Working in the travel, tourism and hospitality sector myself, if anything happens to any visitors to our wonderful isle, well, it would be an absolute disaster. Both for the people involved and for the tourism industry as a whole.  Great Britain is so wonderfully unique because it is an island with a mixture of picturesque and dangerous coastlines.  Extremely dangerous around the area of reponsibility for Swansea.  And if the proposed changes do go ahead, then the Milford Haven Coastguard Station would have to take on the responsibility of the Swansea Coastguard Stations, meaning they would have more than twice their current geographical area to look after, and with no extra personnel – not fair on anyone.

Since reading the first news of these ludicrous proposals, I have been privileged to make friends with some wonderful people on Twitter and Facebook who are involved in the campaign to ‘ Save Our Coastguard Stations’.  Two of the best would be Dennis O’Connor and Lou Pooley ~ great ambassadors for the Coastguard Service and very unhappy to have to be campaigning against the proposed cuts within the Maritime Coatdguard Agency.

That it should not be happening is a given – and  yet another example of the damaging and dangerous decisions this  ‘Greenest Government ever’ is making.  The current fad for the phrase ‘Keep calm and carry on’ would be the thing to do but how can you keep silent when you, and so many others, can see the potential problems and disasters these proposals would bring.  Notice the use of the word would, not could, that’s not correct; it is definitely ‘would’.

Have a look at the great new website ‘CoastguardSOS.com‘ – and please make signing the petition to save the Coastguard Stations, the next thing you do after reading this!  Spread the word, make our coast safe for our children and our grandchildren.  Edmunde Burke once said,  ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’ ~ we’re not necessarily talking about evil, but we are talking about the sanctity of life!

So, let’s make sure all these wonderful, dedicated guys and girls are going to be part of the Coastguard for as long as they want to be and for as long as we need them there – which would be never-ending!  What are you waiting for? Sign that petition!

SOS – Save Our Souls – Please!

I wasn’t going to write a post today but I have to in response to an article I read in The Independent – it’s about pollution disasters and the withdrawal of the four tugs that protect this Island of ours.

Since the calamitous oil spill disaster from the tanker Braer in Shetland, in 1993, (a total of 84,700 tonnes of crude oil spilled into the North Sea after the MV Braer ran aground and a total of £45 million was paid out in compensation), we have had four special tugs stationed around the coastline – our first line of defence.  Now the Government has decided not to fund them any more, as of the end of this month.  This flies in the face of advice from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, many MPs, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and the recommendation from Lord Donaldson’s report after the Braer disaster.

In 2008, the consultancy Marico Marine,  produced a report which stated: “The United Kingdom appears to have little option but to continue its involvement in the contracting of emergency towing vessels.”

“Lack of capability within the commercial tug and towage sector (in effect, market failure), European Union obligations and societal expectations (zero tolerance of major marine environmental incidents) combine to dictate the need for this contingent capability.”

It added: “In cost benefit terms, averting one major shipping disaster and environmental incident of the scale of the Prestige [the oil tanker which broke up off the coast of Spain in 2002] would justify a contract price far in excess of that currently being paid until its expiry in 2011 and beyond.”

Apparently, the Maritime Minister, Mike Penning, thinks differently.  The many years of experience of experts, and all the detail reports written, count for nothing against Mike Penning’s fifteen months in the job!  If this move had a positive point anywhere, it may be digestible; but the fact is, it will only save £8 million, a paltry sum compared with any oil disaster that has happened.  So now it is basically fingers crossed that nothing untoward happens!

Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, sums it up well,

“It is completely crazy. It is incredibly irresponsible to be without these emergency vessels, even for a day. I sympathise with the need to look after the public purse, but that cannot come before lives and before the environment. This is a very dangerous game the Department for Transport is playing.”

Mike Penning, MP for the landlocked Hemel Hempstead constituency, is also responsible for the potential closure of some of our Coastguard Stations. This is even more irresponsible and unbelievable. Eight of them are threatened, Brixham, Clyde, Forth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea, Thames and Yarmouth.

Can you imagine the scenario if these were closed? You’re on holiday in the beautiful county of Norfolk and you decide to go for a walk along the cliffs near Yarmouth. The grass is slippery and you stumble and fall off the side of the cliff and are inaccessible to be rescued from the cliff top. When the emergency call is put through to the Coastguard, it will not be a local person with local knowledge who answers the phone, it will be someone in Humber, which is, according to the AA route planner, 197.8 miles away and would take 4 hours and 36 minutes by road.

The person who answers the phone will not have local knowledge of Yarmouth and, as we all know, local knowledge saves lives. That co-ordinator will have to look up where you are saying the incident has happened. Precious seconds, even minutes, are lost ~ and so will lives be. Putting peoples’ lives at risk is indefensible, no amount of penny pinching is worth that. Our Coastguards go out in all weathers, as does the RNLI, putting their own lives at risk to save others. The men and women on the front line of our emergency services are all heroes, every single one.

The new website for The Maritime and Coastguard Agency proudly says on the front page;

Welcome . . . to the new home of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.  Our vision is to be the best maritime safety organisation in the world, committed to Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas.

Our values are Safety, Professionalism, Trust and Respect.

The values are superb and, at the moment, the public has trust and respect for their safety and the professionalism of all Coastguard personnel. As for the vision, how can it be the best maritime safety organisation in the world when eight strategically positioned coastguard stations are potentially to close? It is an oxymoron. And what if the modern day technology goes down ~ how on earth will it be possible to do anything?

There is a national petition against the closures which 15 thousand people signed the first time it was made public. It is new and needs your signature to make those numbers become many thousands. There is not much time left in this consultation period but, if we make enough noise, perhaps it will be heard by the people making decisions and not fall on the deaf ears of the Secretary again.

Please, please, please sign the petition!

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Many years ago, I read a book that had a profound affect on me.  That book was, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee and the author was Dee Brown. It was published in 1970 and was the first time I truly felt the pain of what man does to man.  It is based on what happened in America to the Native Americans when more and more European settlers came to claim the land.  At first, relations are peaceful but the immigrants become greedy for more land.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises…. You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born a free man should be contented when penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. …I have asked some of the great white chiefs where they get their authority to say to the Indian that he shall stay in one place, while he sees white men going where they please. They cannot tell me.”  Chief Joseph

There is repetition in this book because the same thing happened time and time again to each tribe.  In a nutshell, the US Army of the time was clearing land for more settlement.  If the Native Americans lived on this land, it was not ever considered that they should be able to stay there (where they had lived peacefully for many hundreds of years), the only purpose was to clear the land of any impediments. Their needs and lives were ignored ~ the US Army would destroy and kill if they would not leave when told.  Sometimes they retaliated, which perpetuated the killing and made matters worse.

“The white man made us many promises – more than I can remember, but he never kept but one: he promised to take our land – and he took it”   Red Cloud

If the Native Americans did fight back, the government would then decide to sign a peace treaty with a tribe – but while doing this, the US Army would be forcing these people on to a small reservation; usually far from where they had lived and on barren land. The treaties were broken time and time again by the US, as they stole more and more of the tribe’s land, eventually leaving the tribe starving or exterminated.  With the Army led by General Sheridan, whose mantra was “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”, it is not surprising what happened.

Towards the end, the US government lured Sitting Bull to return to the US under the pretence of an amnesty.  They arrest him and he is killed ‘whilst trying to escape’.  Following this, many Native Americans flee to try to reach Red Cloud’s Pine Ridge reservation. The Army catches them and attempts to disarm them. One soldier fires a shot and suddenly all the armed soldiers open fire with heavy artillery on the mainly unarmed Native Americans, killing nearly all of them.  This took place at Wounded Knee.

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”   Black Elk (1863–1950); medicine man, Oglala Sioux

Big Foot
Yellow Bird
No mercy shown, no respect given.

Travelling through the Shires

This is my first post on a new blog ~ woo hoo!

Yesterday I drove from Buckinghamshire, through the shires of Northampton, Oxford, Warwick, Worcester to Herefordshire.  I did the quick run rather than the scenic route ~ shall save that for the return journey when haste is not a necessary companion.

I started from my daughter’s home in Aylesbury, through to Bicester and then onto the M40.  Great motorway when not chock-a-block and Sunday evening is a good time to reap the benefits of not too much traffic.  Over the years, I’ve tried many different routes from Bedford and Aylesbury to Herefordshire ~ this one seems to give the least stress and traffic jams.  At junction 3A, onto the M42 westbound and then the M5 southbound, coming off at Worcester.

I purposely drive past the Worcester N turn and go on to Worcester S, and for good reason.  Worcester N takes you through the town, it also takes you on roads where signposts to the A44 disappear!  And where, along the roads when you are frantically looking for signposts that will give you a clue as to which way to go, there are speed cameras ~ grrrrrrr!  Didn’t even see the one that got me doing 36 in a 30 mile limit :-(  I’m usually good on 30 mph but was too busy looking at signs rather than the speedo.  Heigh ho!

When you come off at Worcester S, you go straight onto the A44 to Leominster.  At Leominster you have two routes to choose from to get to the little hamlet near Pembridge where my friend’s house is.  You can just follow on the A44 or turn right and go through the gorgeous village of Eardisland.  I always turn right ~ I want to savour the last stage of my journey to the peace and tranquillity that is Herefordshire.

Anna's home ~ Yew Tree Cottage

A shire that personifies England’s green and pleasant land.

A couple more miles and then turn onto a winding, single track road.  I turn down the by-way to the house ~ a big smile on my face.

Coming this way you don’t see all the wonderful places that you do on the scenic and slow A422 from Bedford to here, but there is still so much to take in.  On the humorous side, some of the place names you see on the signposts will make you smile ~

Brill (how quirky and good does that sound?!), Piddington, Fritwell (spooky; where I live ‘frit’ is an accepted alternative for frightened!), Bishop’s Itchington, Kite Green (Oh no, have started to sing, albeit silently, ‘Let’s go fly a kite’ from Mary Poppins!), Pigeon Green, Trap’s Green, Witheybed Green, Lickey, Lickey Rock, Lickey End, Suckley, Butts End, Pie Corner, Sweet Green, The Hundred, The Broad, Weobly (who else remembers the Weebles?), and many, many more.  All so quintessentially English.

If you travelled somewhere new everyday, you would still not be able to see all the wonder and goodness out there in this wondrous planet of ours called Earth.  What a privilege it is to experience just a tiny percentage.