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UK Politics

Euro-MPs attack UK coastguard cuts


British and French Socialist Euro-MPs joined forces today to attack UK government cuts to the coastguard service.

"UK ships will now have to rely on the French to come to the rescue if they get into trouble in the waters of the Channel," said Brian Simpson MEP, chairman of the European Parliament's transport committee.

"This is further proof, if ever we needed it, that the UK Government's cuts are going too far and it's a sorry state of affairs.

"The British have been able to ensure safety of stricken vessels at sea in our coastal waters in one way or another for many hundreds of years, and this is a sad day for British pride as we now abandon the English Channel and cut coastguard services around the rest of the British coast."

French MEP for North-West of France Estelle Grelier said the move meant more work and cost for her country.

"This has put unfair pressure on the French national maritime resources," she said.

"It is unfair for the British government to expect their work to now be financed by the French national budget.

"Privatising the UK coastguard service clearly undermines its efficiency.

"For both environmental and safety reasons, this UK government decision is appalling.

"It is not for me to tell the British how to decide their policy, but the result of the cuts is a multiplication of effort."

Four British tugs were withdrawn from service in the Dover Straits - one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world - at the end of September. One of their main tasks was to get any stricken vessels, many carrying oil and chemical waste, out of the shipping channels and to safety to avoid an environmental disaster.

Security in the area is now financed by France, with Britain able to pay for the use of the service in an emergency.

Calls for the creation of an EU Coastguard, have been opposed by UKIP.

Derek Clarke, UKIP MEP, said: "The British government must scupper this idea immediately.

"The EU has already taken control of our fisheries and they now wish to float a proposal to take over control of our coastguard.

"This is unacceptable."

He also criticised the reduction in UK coastguard services: "The Coalition Government has already decided to close eight British coastguard stations to leave the total number of open centres at eleven - a dangerous move for the safety of our fishermen."

A Department for Transport spokesman said the towing service arrangements involving tugs was not the best way of using taxpayers' money - and the Government was now adapting coordination of Coastguard rescues to ensure a "resilient" coastguard service for the future.

"The primary function of these towing vessels is to assist other ships which have experienced problems." he said.

"Frontline rescues are carried out by volunteer Coastguards, the search and rescue service and other rescue providers.

"We do not believe this towing service represents a correct use of taxpayers' money, and that ship salvage should be a commercial matter between a ship's operator and the salvor."

A statement added: "Separately, the Government is reforming the way Coastguard rescues are coordinated. This will enhance frontline rescue services and is required to deliver a resilient Coastguard service, fit for the 21st century."

The four British tugs withdrawn from operation were based around the UK coast, with only one, Anglian Monarch, on duty in the Dover Straits.