Fears over SAR loss reiterated

Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter based at 202 Squadron RAF Boulmer.
Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter based at 202 Squadron RAF Boulmer.

The fatal North Sea trawler tragedy highlights the importance of a major fund-raising appeal for a new lifeboat, coupled with the need to retain search and rescue provision at RAF Boulmer, it has been claimed.

Crew from the Northumberland base were involved in the hunt for the skipper and crew of Ocean Way, which got into difficulty on Sunday.

An RNLI Shannon-class vessel in action.

An RNLI Shannon-class vessel in action.

However, the area is set to lose its search and rescue (SAR) cover provided by RAF Boulmer in 2015 when the service is privatised.

Meanwhile, Amble RNLI intercepted the distress call from the missing vessel’s emergency beacon earlier in the day, while out on a training exercise south-east of Coquet Island.

The crew headed off in the direction of the radio signal, thinking it was coming from about 30 miles off the coast, but it turned out to be more than 100 miles, which was out of the crew’s range.

The station is currently running a £200,000 appeal to raise cash towards its new Shannon-class lifeboat, due to replace its all-weather Mersey-class vessel in 2017.

Amble Lifeboat press officer Alan Stewart believes that the volunteers would have continued their pursuit of the signal, if they had had the Shannon.

He said: “The Shannon has a far superior range and I do believe that if we had this type of boat, the likelihood would have been that we would have gone to that job.”

Amble will be one of the first lifeboat stations in the north of England to receive a Shannon, while Seahouses has also been selected to have this type of boat.

Mr Stewart added: “Amble will not get the Shannon until 2017 and what I worry about is that, with RAF Boulmer losing SAR cover next year, what will happen then? I believe there will be a big gap to fill and it is a concern.”

Gazette readers reiterated these SAR fears on social media after the trawler tragedy.

On Facebook, Elizabeth Cornwell wrote: ‘Why are the powers that be going to privatise the SAR helicopters?” while @campervan2 tweeted: ‘yet another example of why it’s a really good idea to end SAR at Boulmer #unbelievable’.

Yesterday, an RAF Boulmer helicopter helped RNLI crews from Tynemouth and Cullercoats rescue a woman from rough seas at Tynemouth.

But SAR cover is set to end at Boulmer, as part of a £1.6billion contract with US-owned firm Bristow Helicopters Ltd, which comes into effect in April 2015 and runs until 2026.

Twenty-two helicopters will operate from 10 locations around the UK, with the nearest to north Northumberland at Humberside or Glasgow and coverage also provided from Caernarfon in Wales.

However, RAF warrant officer Alfie Jones, who is located at the RAF Search and Rescue Force Headquarters in Wales, tried to allay fears.

He said: “Even though there won’t be a fleet at Boulmer, the area will be covered and there will no plugs to be filled.The new aircraft are superior – they are faster and have a longer range – and the service they will provide will be the same, if not better, than what the RAF and the Royal Navy are providing at the moment.”