Thames to have its own fast rescue launches

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The Independent Online

After more than a decade of lobbying by safety campaigners, the river Thames is finally to be served by its own fleet of lifeboats.

After more than a decade of lobbying by safety campaigners, the river Thames is finally to be served by its own fleet of lifeboats.

The lack of a dedicated rescue service on the river was condemned by the inquiry into the 1989 sinking of the Marchioness pleasure cruiser in which 51 people died. The Marchioness Action Group, which includes relatives of the victims, has been campaigning for improved safety on the river.

The first of seven Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) jetboats, costing £143,000, has been stationed on the river, to start service on 2 January. The aim is to provide a high-speed rescue service, which can reach any point between Canvey Island and Teddington within 15 minutes.

Lifeboat stations will be staffed by RNLI crews 24 hours a day, all year, at Tower Pier, Chiswick Pier and Gravesend. A fourth station, at Teddington, will be run by volunteers. Four boats will be constantly in service and three will be on stand-by. Each will be staffed by a crew of three, two full-time and one volunteer chosen from a pool of 150.

The service has been initiated as a direct result of the Thames Safety Inquiry into the collision between the Marchioness and the dredger Bowbelle which recommended that the river needed a better rescue service.

For many years, Thames rescues have been the joint responsibility of the police, the fire brigade and the Port of London Authority. But campaigners had complained that the ability to pull victims from the fast-flowing currents was hampered by the design of the police launches.

The Marchioness was packed with more than 100 people celebrating a birthday party when she was hit from behind by the 1,500-ton Bowbelle on the night of 20 August 1989. It was the worst disaster on the river since 1878. The captain of the Bowbelle has been cleared of criminal charges.

Safety on the river has been improved since the tragedy, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is to take responsibility for directing search and rescue from the police. The agency will co-ordinate rescue operations from a Port of London control room in Woolwich.

And for the first time, proposed legislation would also impose an alcohol limit for boat operators on the river.

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