Concern over an RNLI ‘Drowning Gap’ in Wales reaches the London Boat Show
A Welsh lifeboat man and his son make a barefoot protest at the London Boat Show 2018
Father and son, Huw (43) and Steffan Williams (9), can be seen today walking half-dressed and barefoot to the RNLI stand at the London Boat Show, at the ExCel exhibition centre, in a symbolic protest against the RNLI taking vital equipment away from their lifeboat station in West Wales.
The pair travelled over two hundred and fifty miles to the capital to raise awareness of the RNLI’s plan to remove the only all-weather lifeboat from the county of Ceredigion in 2020, creating what has been dubbed the ‘Drowning Gap’ by the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign.
The ‘Drowning Gap’ is the sea area in Cardigan Bay which is currently served by an all-weather lifeboat at New Quay. Under the RNLI’s current plans, when this boat is withdrawn at the end of its operational life, there will be a gap of over 70 miles of coastline between the nearest all-weather lifeboat stations in Barmouth and Fishguard.
There has been an all-weather lifeboat in New Quay for over one hundred and fifty years but, while the RNLI are rolling out state-of-the-art Shannon class all-weather lifeboats around the coast of the UK and Ireland, New Quay has been chosen as one of the first stations to lose all-weather lifeboat capability in the RNLI’s recent Coast Review.
Whilst the RNLI has refused to publish its Coast Review report, it is clear that the decision to downgrade lifesaving provision will result in cost savings running into millions of pounds. However, a report published by the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign claims that 25% of rescues carried out by New Quay’s all-weather lifeboat could not have been achieved by the inshore lifeboat that the RNLI plan to station in New Quay.
Speaking at the show Huw Williams, a volunteer RNLI crewman and spokesperson for the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign said, “The Ceredigion coast is busy with passenger boats, leisure craft, and commercial fishing activity. Boats can sink and people can get swept out to sea in seconds. It is well documented that hypothermia is a killer after 30 minutes, and that means that every second counts. Whilst inshore lifeboats are good at what they do, they cannot launch in severe weather, meaning a wait of up to 90 minutes for a lifeboat to arrive.
“The introduction of new, faster lifeboats was supposed to improve rescue capability but, in Ceredigion, we will see a return to response times not seen since the 1970s and 80s. This puts lives at risk unnecessarily. As lifeboat crew members, we are happy to give our time voluntarily; all we ask for is the right equipment for the job.”
Joining Huw in London is his son, Steffan. Last summer, at only eight years old, Steffan made headlines across the world after twice rescuing people cut off by the tide. Steffan is passionate about the water, and particularly lifeboats. As well as being a keen RNLI fundraiser, he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps as a lifeboat crewman.
Steffan commented, “I am very upset that the RNLI are not replacing our lifeboat with a new Shannon. I want to join the crew when I am 17 years old and hope they will change their minds. The sea can be dangerous and we need the right boat to help people when it’s stormy. One day, I hope to be the coxswain.” Unless the RNLI change their minds, Steffan’s ambition now seems to be out of the question.
Huw added, “The RNLI’s ‘Plans and Purpose’ states: “We aim to ensure our crews can reach at least 90% of all casualties within 10 nautical miles of the coast, within 30 minutes of a lifeboat launch – in any weather.” Under the RNLI’s current plans, this will be unachievable in Ceredigion from 2020. Why are we being treated differently?”
To find out more about the campaign to save New Quay’s all-weather lifeboat, visit www.ceredigionlifeboatcampaign.org.uk.
Notes to Editor
Image 1 – New Quay’s Current All-weather Lifeboat
Image 2 – New Quay Lifeboat in breaking seas
Image 3 – Steffan and his father Huw
Image 4 – Steffan Williams enjoys being on the water
Image 5 – Steffan Williams on the New Quay lifeboat slipway
Image 6 – Steffan New York Post Tweet
Image 7 – The Drowning Gap
* Boat Show photograph to follow *
About the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign:
In June 2017, the RNLI decided to strip New Quay lifeboat station of its Mersey-class all-weather lifeboat in 2020, replacing it with an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat. The proposed new lifeboat will not be able to launch in conditions exceeding Force 7 in daylight or Force 6 at night. This will leave a gap of 63 miles (nearly 80 miles of coastline) between the all-weather lifeboat stations in Fishguard and Barmouth.
The Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign (CLC) was formed in July 2017 in order to challenge the RNLI’s decision. The CLC action group is made up of representatives of local yacht clubs and rowing clubs, commercial fishermen, boat trip operators, RNLI fundraisers, lifeboat crew members, and other members of the local community.
The campaign has the support of Ben Lake MP, Elin Jones AM, Joyce Watson AM, Dyfed Powys Police & Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, and the unanimous backing of Ceredigion County Council. The Welsh Fisherman’s Association, a wide range of community groups, and a number of influential individuals across the UK, have also offered their support.
The petition opposing the RNLI’s plan to downgrade New Quay lifeboat now stands at over 15,000 signatures (as at November 2017) and support continues to grow.
- June 2017 – RNLI announces decision not to replace New Quay’s all-weather lifeboat at the end of its operational life in 2020. RNLI refuses to publish the data upon which the decision was made.
- July 2017 – CLC established to challenge the RNLI’s decision and to request full disclosure of data. CLC carries out a series of public engagement events and writes a series of letters to the RNLI to request disclosure of the Coast Review report and supporting data.
- July 2017 – Ben Lake MP, Elin Jones AM and Joyce Watson AM pledge their support.
- August 2017 – Dyfed Powys Police & Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, pledges his support.
- September 2017 – Ben Lake MP and Elin Jones AM meet RNLI Operations Director. CLC also meet RNLI Operations Director. Despite promises, no data is provided.
- October 2017 – RNLI CEO requests meeting between CLC and member of RNLI Council.
- October 2017 – Ben Lake MP asks a question in the House and elicits the support of Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the House, who endorses a letter to Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Transport.
- October 2017 – Welsh Government writes to RNLI, expressing concerns.
- December 2017 – Ceredigion County Council unanimously passes a motion opposing the planned downgrade of New Quay Lifeboat Station.
- December 2017 – Confirmation received from major international company that it is willing to adopt CLC as one of its charitable causes.
- January 2018 – Following a complaint by CLC, the Charity Commission writes to the Trustees of the RNLI to remind them of the terms of the Charity Governance Code relating to Openness and Accountability and to ask the RNLI to provide the information that CLC has requested. We are still waiting!
Press release Steffan Williams has gone viral 29.9.17 FINAL
For interviews or additional information and photos please contact Huw Williams on 07767 215 764 or Kate Williams on 07786 550054.