Search and rescue future ‘on hold’

Joseph Bulmer

Government delays announcement on privatising search and rescue service

THE announcement on privatising search and rescue helicopter services at Chivenor and across the UK has been delayed.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond MP, told Parliament today (Thursday) that “a possible issue” had arisen in connection with the Soteria consortium’s bid for the �6 billion contract.

The contract would see a replacement of the aging Sea King helicopters with the newer and faster Sikorsky S92 models, with the current RAF crew likely to transfer to the new service, which would include civilian crews and be jointly managed by the Ministry of Defence and Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Mr Hammond told the House of Commons that along with Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox he had planned to announce today an intention to proceed with negotiations with the preferred bidder, but added: “The preferred bidder has informed the Ministry of Defence within the last 48 hours that it has become aware of a possible issue in connection with its bid to provide the UK search and rescue capability, which was the basis of its selection as the preferred bidder as announced in February 2010.

“In the circumstances it is not appropriate for us to proceed with the planned announcement until the status of this issue has been clarified.”

The proposals would see the cover at Chivenor reduced from 24 to 12 hours, which would effectively mean no night cover and campaigners fear this would lead to loss of lives.

Mr Hammond said a further statement would be made as soon as more information could be provided and regretted the uncertainty this entailed for all those involved in providing the search and rescue service.