The Transport Minister has admitted that the Northern Irish coastguard centre has been understaffed in more than half of the shifts during the past two months

The issue of coastguard understaffing has reared its head in the House of Commons, with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond fielding questions on the subject this week (2 July).

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, raised the issue during Parliamentary Questions and found that more than 50% of the shifts at Belfast MRCC in the past two months were understaffed.

The Northern Irish coastguard station was paired with Stornoway MRCC to cover Ms Clark’s constituency after the closure of MRCC Clyde in December 2012.

However, Mr Hammond admitted that only 20 out of 60 shifts in April were adequately staffed, while 40 of 62 were satisfactorily manned during May.

Writing on her official website, the Labour MP reacted with alarm at the findings, adding:

“The increase in unsafely staffed shifts at MRCC Belfast is cause for considerable concern. Last year the staffing levels at the co-ordination centre were simply unacceptable.

“However we were lead to believe that following the recruitment of new staff these problems would be a thing of the past. These latest figures show that this is clearly not the case.”

Last year saw 77% understaffing at MRCC Belfast, and while the Stornoway coastguard station is better staffed, there was still a shortfall in 13% of shifts during the past two months.