Government Plans Will Put 'Lives At Risk'

Safety at sea could be put at risk by cut-backs says Hampshire fire chief.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Chief Officer, John Bonney, has voiced severe concerns over Department of Transport plans to cut funding for specialist teams who tackle fires at sea.

With one of the busiest areas of shipping in the Solent, he said ceasing the funding for the specialist fire fighting teams who respond to 999 maritime incidents and chemical spills off the coastline could put both the public and firefighters at risk.

"I am very concerned by this decision which threatens a vital part of our maritime resilience. Hampshire has a large maritime industry and a high number of both passenger ferries and cruise liners travelling through its coastal waters. In my view without a properly funded provision for fire-fighting at sea by professional firefighters the public will be at greater risk.

"HFRS firefighters have vast knowledge and experience in responding to emergency incidents and are also specially trained for their role at sea. It is this professional knowledge which helps to contain fires on vessels at sea and prevent incidents from becoming more serious with potentially disastrous consequences for the sea-going public and our coastline."

His concerns echo those raised by the Chief Fire Officer Association (CFOA) which said funding cuts could compromise safety following the announcement that the Department of Transport has accepted the recommendation from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) to discontinue the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG).

The Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) currently consists of 15 Local Authority Fire and Rescue Service teams, including HFRS, working in partnership with the MCA to provide an emergency fire and chemical incident response to ships at sea. The teams are made up of approximately 50 firefighters and officers who are specially trained and equipped to work safely at sea.
Chairman of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority, Councillor Royston Smith, said:

"Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority have fully supported the coordinated approach with the MCA to tackle fires at sea because of the importance of having a professional and robust response to such emergencies. I am therefore disappointed that the Department of Transport has not been able to find a solution with fire authorities to continue to provide this important capability."

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service has confirmed it will continue at present to provide the specialist teams to tackle fires, although they do not have a statutory duty to do so, while working with the MCA and CFOA to consider alternative arrangements once Government funding ends in November.