National Maritime Information Centre will monitor threat from sea

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A new monitoring centre aimed at combating threats to the UK from the sea will be launched later this year, Home Office Minister Lord West said today.

The National Maritime Information Centre will combine the efforts of different Government agencies at tackling dangers such as terrorism, piracy and drug smuggling.

On a visit to the Ministry of Defence joint headquarters in Northwood, Middlesex, where the centre will be based, Lord West said there was a "crying need" for better intelligence sharing by police, the Royal Navy, the Coastguard and other bodies.

He said efforts to monitor the hundreds of thousands of vessels around Britain's coastline had been "pretty ropey" in the past.

The new £350,000 centre will aim to create a "single picture" of maritime activity once it begins operating at the end of this year.

Lord West said he had been trying to push the idea of a maritime security centre for 25 years.

Concerns about the danger of a Mumbai-style attack - in which terrorists launched their attack from the water - against the UK and the need to protect sailing events at the 2012 Olympics had pushed the issue up the agenda, he said.

Lord West said: "Things like the attack on Mumbai and the forthcoming Olympics in 2012 made us realise we needed to look at the maritime domain more closely.

"We have this mass of agencies all of whom have a certain responsibility for affairs at sea particularly close to our coasts.

"The sharing of information has not been as good as it should be. I think the British public would be surprised to realise that we don't know what every single contact is off our coast - and the reason is the number of people who are looking at these things.

"I believe this is a huge step forward that will really enable us to get to grips with this issue."