The Sea King helicopters flown by Prince William are to be scrapped and their RAF pilots replaced with civilian contractors – despite the heir to the throne's personal lobbying of the Prime Minister – as part of the privatisation of Britain's search and rescue service.
Two bases – RAF Boulmer and the Portland coastguard centre – will cease search and rescue operations in 2015 and 2017 respectively. A private contractor will take over the running of the remaining service in 2016 on a 10-year deal.
Campaigners have warned that "lives will be lost" as a result of the closure of more than half of Britain's Coastguard Rescue Centres. The number of bases will fall from 12 to 10 but ministers insisted yesterday that contractors would be expected to "provide at least the same level of service as at present". It has been confirmed that Prince William took part in an operation at the weekend to rescue Russian sailors adrift in the Irish Sea.
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