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Fear over future at sea

PUBLISHED: 19:05 07 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:36 03 March 2010

DEEP concern has been voiced over how fires will be fought at sea in the busy shipping lanes leading to Felixstowe port when Suffolk axes its service.

The serious issue has already been brought directly to the attention of Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, and Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer has demanded a full explanation for the decision.

By Richard Cornwell

DEEP concern has been voiced over how fires will be fought at sea in the busy shipping lanes leading to Felixstowe port when Suffolk axes its service.

The serious issue has already been brought directly to the attention of Transport Secretary Alistair Darling, and Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer has demanded a full explanation for the decision.

"This has got to have a very much better explanation than that being offered," said Mr Gummer, whose constituency includes 74 miles of coastline as well as Britain's premier port, Felixstowe.

"We have a responsibility to the people using this coastline and have had through the ages.

"I want to know exactly the basis upon which this decision has been made and why there has been no consultation with MPs of this area who might have something to say about it and will be writing to the fire service and county council immediately."

Andrew Linington, spokesman for ships' officers' union NUMAST, said the number of fire brigades with firefighting at sea capability had halved since 1995. The reason was mainly due to a court judgement preventing services from recovering their costs for dealing with an incident.

"The number of services able to fight fires at sea is declining rapidly and this is at a time when the need for them is greater than ever," he said.

"Ships are getting bigger and bigger, both passenger ships and cargo vessels, which are carrying more hazardous materials with the potential for fire and pollution.

"The situation is desperately serious and there is an increasing urgency for something to be done about it. We have been lobbying for four years and this week we met the Transport Minister to discuss it further in the light of the incident on the P&O Norsea and to discuss the Suffolk situation.

"The minister was aware of the problem and gave us an assurance that he is considering how to tackle the matter."

Mayor of Felixstowe Malcolm Minns demanded to know if there was an emergency disaster plan in place to deal with a major incident.

"I have been deeply concerned about this issue for sometime and whether the fire-fighting facilties for dealing with incidents at sea were adequate," he said.

"No-one previously was able to answer my question, and now I am even more concerned and I think the matter should be pursued with some urgency.

"A major fire on a container ship, which might be carrying all sorts of dangerous cargo, or a passenger ship or cruise ship coming into Harwich, is perfectly possible.

"I think the community is entitled to know if there is a plan to deal with such an eventuality and then to know the broadest detail of that plan."

Doreen Savage, chairman of Felixstowe Safety Committee, could understand the arguments for withdrawing a service which is not used greatly.

"I would accept the reasons but would find it unacceptable if it left life and limb at risk – we need to be assured that the decision has been made with due regard to the safety of the people travelling on the ships off our coast," she said.

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