Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Coastguard computer 'could put lives at risk'
New measures have been put in place to ensure seafarers will be safe in the days surrounding this summer's total eclipse of the Sun.
More than a million visitors will move into Devon and Cornwall at the beginning of the month to witness the eclipse, many of them taking to the water.
The safety measures have been deemed necessary because of the problems experienced by the Coastguard Service in implementing a new computer system.
The emergency services are expecting a heavy workload in the days running up to and after the eclipse on 11 August. The issue is particularly pressing for the South West because it is the only part of the UK where the total eclipse can be viewed properly.
The region is served by the country's two busiest coastguard stations, Portland and Lee-On-Solent. Under a reorganisation, these stations are being merged, and as part of the changes, a new computer system is being introduced called ADAS 2000.
The technology is supposed to enable coastguards to monitor larger areas, but since its introduction, it has been plagued with teething problems.
In the leaked letter, the Coastguard Regional Inspector Richard Day says he has "grave concerns about the abilty to cope with ADAS 2000 in its chronically unreliable state. Unless some improvement is forthcoming quickly, lives could be put at risk."
These concerns have been echoed by the Public and Commercial Services Union, which says there have been dificulties at every station where the new computer system has been introduced.
Mr Day's letter was sent to the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Maurice Storey. Since it was written, the agency says new resources to deal with the problem have been put in place. It also stresses that there will be on-site support during the eclipse to sort out any problems that might occur.
Richard Day confirmed to the BBC on Tuesday that he is satisfied the approriate steps are being taken to address the issues raised in his letter.
Cornish coastguards are even taking to the saddle to ensure cliff tops and beaches are adequately patrolled. Members of the Land's End service believe horses will help them beat the expected congestion on the county's roads.