The UK’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Center (ARCC), currently manned by members of the Royal Air Force and based at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, could be relocated to the new National Maritime Operations Center (NMOC) in Fareham, near Portsmouth, around 2017 when the military ceases to contribute helicopters to the UK’s search and rescue capability.
Vice Admiral Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), was the keynote speaker at the UK Search & Rescue conference at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. He clarified that while the decision still had to be finalized, it represented an opportunity of consolidation with the NMOC in one location to make the organization.
The MCA is progressing through its own period of reorganization, reducing its network of 18 Maritime Rescue Coordination Centers (MRCCs) to just eight, with only three of those offering 24/7 continuous operations. Massey said that after an aborted start, which was a result of not fully engaging with the organization’s rank and file employees, the new plan has been received and understood. Its aim is to produce a truly national maritime picture with a pre-planned distributed workload that will take into account peaks and troughs of activity throughout the year and by location.
Later during the address, he said that the idea of one single European coastguard organization was “not a priority,” adding “the UK government does not support a multinational service.”
The two-day conference saw a broad range of international speakers addressing various issues relating to search and rescue organizations, technologies and practices. In addition to MCA personnel, there were operators from the Portuguese Navy, SASEMAR in Spain, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Icelandic Coastguard.
Peter Dymond, acting chief of HM Coastguard in the UK, fleshed out details of the Future Coastguard Program that entails the reduction of the 18 maritime Rescue Coordination Centers plus a small base in London, down to a hub and spoke system of eight Coastguard Operations Centers controlled from the National Maritime Operations Center (NMOC). Dymond explained the depth of the consultation that had gone into the process, which included two Transport Select Committee hearings and an inquiry.
The result, he said, would be an organization that had a national perspective from every base, could now claim to offer resilience and cost savings, but that importantly could distribute the daily workload throughout the organization.
Dave Wilson, operations officer/watch leader with the Joint Rescue Coordination Center, part of Maritime New Zealand, presented a New Zealand perspective of SAR operational coverage for Antarctica. Cooperation in such a harsh environment was the key, he said. Air assets that fly between Christchurch in New Zealand and the U.S. locations in Antarctica included a U.S. C-17 Globemaster, a ski-shod LC-130 Hercules and during the summer a Eurocopter AS350 B2 and two Bell 212s. He said that since 2004, 18 SAR operations had been conducted although 33 lives had been lost, 22 alone in one Korean fishing boat capsize.
During the middle of the day, delegates were treated to a display in hoisting from helicopter to lifeboat and back along the seafront at Brighton. A Coastguard AgustaWestland AW139 coordinated with one of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s inshore lifeboats to demonstrate how winching operations were conducted. The day could not have been better with near unheard of blue skies and calm seas.
Earlier during the conference, Ciaran McHugh, a winch operator/specialist with the Irish Coast Guard, explained how new Sikorsky S-92s were replacing their old S-61s. A feature that he was bound to like was the dual Goodrich 44311 winch to which he made the point that “having a dual winch is the same as a pilot with two engines – we both like the safety.” He also said that from an operator’s point of view, having the rear access ramp meant the speedy unloading of casualties.
Brett Hartnett, exercise director for Angel Thunder, an annual event under the watchful eye of the U.S. Air Force’s 23rd Wing, gave a glimpse into what in fact turns out to be eight individual exercises in the southwestern United States wrapped into one continuous challenging period. This year’s Angel Thunder, staged over two weeks from April 7-20, involved around 109 aircraft flying 4,192 hours in 544 sorties. It combines military and civilian training in Personnel Recovery; it is militarily joint, multinational (personnel from 23 countries participated) and inter-agency. In short – it has to be seen to be believed!