Thursday, 06 August 2020

Anger at threat to Dunkirk boats

OWNERS of boats which saved the lives of British soldiers at Dunkirk during the Second World War have criticised new rules that could mean some of them may have to be scrapped.

The Maritime Coastguard Agency, part of the Department for Transport, wants to bring the “Little Ships” in line with modern-day technical standards.

One of the new rules includes raising the height of the decking which it says would minimise flood risk.

But opponents claim that this would be expensive and would destroy the character of the vessels.

National Historic Ships UK says many of the boats could be “scrapped or left derelict”.

Tim Deaton, who runs Devon Belle, which was involved in Dunkirk and the D-Day landings and now provides trips on the Thames from Caversham, said: “They want to bring the regulations of the old vessels up to the standard of a new one and the problem is the construction of an old vessel doesn’t allow for that.

“The only way that some of the ships in London could raise the decking is by first chopping the top off, which would completely change the character of the vessel.”

Mr Deaton said improving fire detection and suppression in line with the new regulations was a good idea but rules, such as having lifejackets for everyone on board, was unnecessary.

He said: “We try to make our boats as safe and as good as possible so the firefighting is something that operators are prepared to do but we consider the lifejackets to be unnecessary. Large passenger vessels can’t disappear under the water when it is so shallow and they are so big.

“Most accidents tend to be in the newer boats. There have been no accidents with these old boats for years.”

He added:  “As with all the Dunkirk Little Ships, you end up pouring a lot of money into them to keep them running anyway.”

John Calvert, from Goring, who restored his motor yacht L’Orage, said he wasn’t affected as it is a private launch but was unhappy at the thought of other ships having to be changed.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” he said. “To have some of these boats bring all those soldiers back in 1940 to save the country... and now some pen-pusher in some health and safety office wants to spoil the whole thing.

“If you raise the flooring inside the saloon, you have got to raise the roof, then the whole character of the boat will disappear.”

The agency said it wanted to introduce a set of “proportionate measures” to increase the level of safety for the public.

The Little Ships were a group of private boats that helped rescue more than 336,000 British and French troops during operation Dynamo between May 26 and June 4, 1940.

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