SUNDERLAND and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon has joined the battle to help save coastguards’ jobs from the axe.
The Humber Coastguard, which covers Wearside and East Durham, will no longer operate round the clock under plans to slash the number of stations from 18 to eight.
The closest 24-hour operational centre could be as far away as Aberdeen.
Five sub-centres – open only during daylight hours – will be in Swansea, Cornwall, either Belfast or Liverpool, either Stornoway or Shetland, as well as Humber.
Now the Edinburgh-born shot-stopper, 28, has thrown his support behind Shetland Coastguard campaigners in their fight to save Britain’s most northerly Coastguard station from closure.
He said: “I have family on Shetland and some very happy memories of visiting the Coastguard station in Lerwick as a child, so naturally I’m saddened to hear of its possible closure.
“I know that the weather can be so unpredictable and hugely unforgiving around the islands so the role of the Shetland Coastguard in protecting so many people from danger cannot be overstated.
“I wholeheartedly support the people of Shetland in their bid to retain its services.”
Shipping Minister Mike Penning said the national plans aimed to “improve present levels of service to the public while reducing costs”.
He added the current organisation of Coastguards had been in place for 40 years and need to be changed.
But the Public and Commercial Services union said that cuts must not put lives at risk and force staff out of the service.
The union, which represents 750 members in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), also said any changes would have to address years of low pay which has left coastguards as the poor relation of the emergency services.
Tom Martin, Sunderland Mayor and Hendon Labour councillor, said at the time the planned closures were announced: “This is very worrying indeed and I can’t see how cuts of this size won’t have an impact on pubic safety. This is going to put added pressure on the RNLI.”
Coun Martin, an ex-member of the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service (RNAS), added: “The RNAS worked closely with the Coastguard as well as the RNLI and I know the importance of the work they do. With any incident at sea, time is a vital factor. Any delay could by very dangerous.”
But Graham Hall, a Tory councillor for St Peter’s and chairman of Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade, said: “Unfortunately, not unlike all Government departments, cost savings are having to be made by the Marine Coast Guard Agency and they are in the process of carrying out consultation with a view to reconfiguring their rescue centres and how they would operate in local areas.”
Mike Smith, from Shetland Coastguard PCS, branded the plan to shut the island’s station as ill thought out, flawed and dangerous and claimed it would increase the risk to thousands of seafarers and coastal users.
“Potentially, these are changes that not only affect the professional and volunteer coastguard staff, but have an impact on everybody,” he said. “Over 90 per cent of the world’s trade and goods are transported by sea, whether it is a new mobile phone or a three-piece suite.
“If the MCA plan succeeds, the UK will be left with only two 24-hour coastguard centres for an area stretching from the central English channel to as far north as Faeroe and from the middle of the North Sea to the mid-Atlantic Ocean.”
The coastguard is encouraging members of the public to write to their MP about the proposals.
A template letter is available from the PCS union at http://e-activist.com/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=103&ea.campaign.id=9223
They can also demonstrate their support by signing individual station petitions at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/41468.html) and the national petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/ukcghq/