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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 18:18 GMT
Thames lifeboat service launched
Lifeboat crew
The lifeboats aim to reach emergencies in 15 minutes
The first inland lifeboat service in England has been launched along the River Thames in London.

Four lifeboat stations will provide a 24-hour rapid response from Teddington in the west to the North Sea.

It comes 12 years after the Marchioness disaster, the report into which criticised the lack of a dedicated rescue service for London's waterway.

Families of victims of the disaster welcomed the new service but said it had taken too many years of campaigning.

'Effective response'

Transport minister John Spellar launched the new service on Wednesday.

It aims to reach any emergency on the river within 15 minutes and Mr Spellar said the new vessels would provide a "much more rapid and effective response".

I am confident that today is the day that the Thames became a safer river

Peter Nicholson, RNLI chairman
Lord Justice Clark criticised the lack of a rescue service for the Thames in last year's report into the Marchioness riverboat tragedy, in which 51 people died.

Mr Speller said on Wednesday that the Government had responded quickly to the report's recommendation for a risk assessment of the river.

"There might be some argument about the timing.

"But I think there is a very real acceptance that this is a service that will make the Thames considerably safer."

'Unacceptable delay'

Margaret Lockwood Croft, whose 26-year-old son Shaun was killed in the disaster, said it had been too long in coming.

"I think the delay has been unacceptable. We have had to campaign for 12 long, hard years for this.

"We had our own risk assessment done in 1992 and the Clarke Report just confirmed our findings."

The lifeboat service has been set up by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the RNLI.

The vessels are capable of reaching 40 knots
It has cost 2m to begin and will cost another 1m per year to operate which will come from donations.

It was launched at Tower Pier, one of the four stations along the river.

Like Tower Pier, two others at Chiswick Pier and Gravesend will also be 24-hour operations manned by full-time crew and volunteers.

The fourth at Teddington will use volunteers in the same way as the RNLI operates its 223 lifeboat station around the coasts of the British Isles.

Rescues will be co-ordinated by a new London Coastguard from an operations room at the Thames Barrier.

The three full-time stations will have E class Tiger Marine response craft capable of travelling at 40 knots.

'Tireless efforts'

The 143,000 vessels have twinjets giving them greater manoeuvrability.

A smaller D class inflatable with a top speed of 20 knots will operate from Teddington.

Peter Nicholson, chairman of the RNLI, said the new service was mostly thanks to the "tireless efforts" of the Marchioness campaigners.

"I am confident that today is the day that the Thames became a safer river and the RNLI is proud to be part of this new enterprise."

A poster campaign has begun across the London Underground informing people how to use the new service.

Emergencies can be reported by calling 999 and asking for London Coastguard.

Michael Vlasto, RNLI operations director, said: "This is a new concept for Londoners and we have to get them used to raising the alarm in this way."

The RNLI expects to deal with between 100 and 200 incidents a year on the Thames.

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See also:

24 May 01 | Northern Ireland
Inland lifeboat station opens
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