Coastguard joins pioneering network in bold modernisation

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Stornoway’s coastguard has joined a national network where stations across the country will pool resources and share communication.

The town’s coastguard control centre is now connected to the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Hampshire, England, and to nine other coastguard stations.

Staff at the operations room at Her Majesty’s Coastguard in Stornoway have just arrived back from training at the national centre and looked delighted to be at the helm of fantastic technology.

The centre at Stornoway is boasting technology with the ability to show Stornoway controllers what is happening across Britain, so the station can jump in and help elsewhere if needed.

The communal system also means coastguard stations across the country can help Stornoway during busy periods.

The operations room was in a frenzy of enthusiasm as the head operations man, Angus MacIver, bounced around showing everyone fantastic new technology.

Mr MacIver proudly displayed the desks at which the trained crew now sit. They are able to view the situation not just in their own patch but across the world. The interconnevity of the national system means that an international rescue could potentially be mounted, with each station seeing the same information and communicating through the same frequency.

The modernisation programme will see the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) and 10 other Coastguard Operation Centres around Britain operate as an integrated network. All coastguard stations will be able to manage workload on a national basis.

This means in a search and rescue operation there will be a much bigger and better support network available nationally to help Coastguards who may be dealing with multiple incidents at once.

“We’re on call 24/7 and naturally each day is unpredictable,” said Mr MacIver, whose official title is the station’s Maritime Operations Controller.

“Being part of a national network means we can now work better together with other stations.

“For example if there was a major incident in Belfast, we could lend a hand by taking some of their duties onto our station until it is under control.”

Indeed, the new system means any station in the British Isles can take on a task. Controllers in Humber can help co-ordinate a rescue in Aberdeen, if the latter are tied up in an on-going rescue. Belfast can attend to Shetland’s weather reports.

“We were watching Hurricane Patricia hit Mexico on a screen in the staff room,” said Angus MacIver, “we’re able to see the co-ordination of all rescues and tasks. It gives us a heads up over how we might be able to prioritise our resources in the best way.”

But Angus MacIver is very keen to stress that there will be no change to the service for those needing help.

“The way we deliver co-ordination of search and rescue operations on our coast and out at sea is changing

“But the public won’t notice a difference. If you call 999 and ask for the Coastguard, or issue a mayday broadcast,we will still be there to help you.”

The new national network is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of 2015, when London and Dover join and complete the link.

Controller MacIver concluded: “We are a national service with local capabilities. “We’re proud to be able to help take the heat off another station if and when we can.

“Our primary area is Stornoway but we’re thrilled that this access to a national system means Stornoway can help other stations even more with their emergencies.

“Stornoway Coastguard is part of a national team and I think we’re all proud of that.” The plan to reform the coastguard was first announced in 2011 by the then Shipping Minister Mike Penning.

Coastguard operational centres in Scotland will continue to be funded in exactly the same way as their counterparts south of the border - by Westminster.

The station at Stornoway will continue to make excellent use of the helicopter at the airport and will approach the RNLI about upgrading the communication system.

The Gazette understands a paging system similar to that used by retained firefighters could be used by lifeboat crews.

Pictured is Angus MacIver, Maritime Operations Controller for Stornoway, who was excited and confident that the team would seize the advantages of the technology.