‘No impact’ on public safety as Coastguard volunteers quit in protest at ‘iron-fisted rule including media blackout’ as Southampton-based spokesman tells of ‘incident’ at nonexistent ‘Blackpool Pier’

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Coastguard bosses insist there will be no impact on safety after the departure of five experienced volunteers with 60 years’ service.

 

The Blackpool and Lytham life-saving team has been reduced by around half – with just six people left – because of the resignations, which came in protest at the perceived way the emergency service is now being run.

A recruitment drive will be launched to get numbers up by next summer, with the Coastguard teams in Fleetwood, which has 16 people, and Knott End, which has nine, being asked to help with call-outs in Blackpool, St Annes, and Lytham.

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A major nine-hour search was launched off the coast off Blackpool, after a pile of fishing gear was found behind the Sandcastle water park at around 2.45pm on Thursday, January 2, 2020 (Picture: Fleetwood Coastguard)

A major nine-hour search was launched off the coast off Blackpool, after a pile of fishing gear was found behind the Sandcastle water park at around 2.45pm on Thursday, January 2, 2020 (Picture: Fleetwood Coastguard)

It follows another record-breaking year on the Fylde coast, with hundreds of emergency calls being lodged.

One rescuer said there won’t be any delays over the quieter winter, but said there could have been had the departures come over the busy summer holidays.

“We actively recruit for replacement volunters when people step down from the role because of the value we place upon having full teams in every location,” a spokesman said.

“However, there is no impact on public safety as our coastguards serve alongside our other responders such as the search and rescue helicopters and the RNLI and independent lifeboats.

“In addition, our teams in the North West of England and in Wales have always worked together in partnership and will continue to do so, supporting each other in responses to emergency situations at the coast in a number of locations.”

Volunteers are said to be frustrated at what they feel is iron-fisted enforcement of policies.

One source said teams have been ordered to keep details of call-outs secret for 24 hours – only releasing details if there is a “public safety message” and if the Coastguard is the “lead agency”, which means the police and ambulance services will be expected to release information about jobs they lead, including when there are injuries and falls and searches for missing people, which make up the vast majority of local call-outs.

That, it is felt locally, is essentially a media blackout and sparked the closure of Coastguard social media pages up and down the country.

While a spokesman based in Southampton insisted “rescue teams are not banned from using social media or speaking to the media”, he failed to release details of an emergency on Thursday afternoon, other than to say there had been “an incident north of Blackpool Pier”, despite the resort having three piers.

He refused to say what the “incident” actually involved.

“We are called out for life and death situations, sometimes in very sensitive circumstances and it would be inappropriate for some details to be released,” he said.

“Sometimes we are asked by our partner agencies not to release information either in interview to the media or on social media because it could cause distress to family and friends of those at the heart of those incidents.

“We are sure that the communities we are a part of and that we serve will understand why that would be so.

“We are here to search and rescue, not cause hurt to those who we have done all we can to assist.”