Coast guard distress call for more funding, better organisation

THERE are dangerous gaps in the south-west’s marine rescue coverage and coast guards are relying on the goodwill of the public to fix them, the state government has been told. 

Jock Bromell (left) and Howard Willoughby from the Port Fairy Marine Rescue Service, which is lobbying for a better deal for the region’s coastal rescue bodies.

Jock Bromell (left) and Howard Willoughby from the Port Fairy Marine Rescue Service, which is lobbying for a better deal for the region’s coastal rescue bodies.

The region’s three marine rescue services in Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland have compared themselves to charities reliant on generosity, despite operating as emergency services. 

Their submissions to the state government inquiry into marine services have called for government funding and for Victoria’s cluster of different coastal rescue groups to be streamlined into a single agency. 

“Whether that be Victoria Marine Rescue Service or Coast Guard or any other name you may propose to give it,” the Warrnambool flotilla submission said. The submission also highlighted challenges in getting emergency equipment for crews. 

“Rescue units should not have to ‘rattle the cans’ to get sufficient funds for these purposes,” it said.

The service has also called on the government to consider paid positions in the marine service, bringing it in line with other agencies like the SES.

Both Port Fairy and Warrnambool are also concerned about reaching stricken vessels between Port Campbell and Apollo Bay. 

“There is a perceived void of rescue services between Port Campbell and Apollo Bay that has caused some concern in the past,” Port Fairy Marine Rescue Service communications officer Russell Lemke said. “This is an extremely rugged area with very limited access for launching a rescue vessel.” 

Warrnambool flotilla commander Adrian Calderwood echoed the concerns. 

“It’s a long stretch. If a yacht gets into trouble, it really is in trouble because it’s such a long way away,” Commander Calderwood said. 

Both rescue leaders said they were concerned about their ability to raise funds in the future. 

“Our present annual running costs are about $15,000 and forward prediction in the coming years could be as much as $20,000 to $25,000 a year depending on rising costs and future asset changes,” Mr Lemke said. 

“Raising this amount of money per year is difficult and places further workload on volunteer members.” 

Commander Calderwood said annual costs for maintaining Warrnambool’s service and rescue vessel exceeded $20,000 — all of it provided by philanthropy and the community. 

“It’s difficult, we’re getting there — only just,” he said. 

Portland flotilla commander Michael Krause said the time was “overdue” for all Victoria’s various coast guard services to be rolled into one. 

“If you could have all the services working under the one body statewide, it would improve the system,” Commander Krause said. 

s.mccomish@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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