Sea Rescue to weigh anchor?

THE nation’s busiest volunteer sea rescue group is looking to weigh anchor from Mews Road and set up in the disused signal station on Cantonment Hill (Herald, January 31, 2015).

According to Fremantle Volunteer Sea Rescue Group president Phil Martin the group has outlived its premises, where it moved shortly after the port city hosted the America’s Cup in 1987.

When the Herald visited the group’s HQ it was confronted with a building crumbling at the seams. Part of the staircase railing is held together with gaffer tape, the ceiling in the operations room is crumbling and there is no toilet inside: volunteers use a portaloo next to the entrance.

“Basically you don’t go to the toilet,” Raylee Hertnon says.

• Volunteer Raylee Hertnon in the operations room. BELOW: The place has seen better days. Photos by Eddie Albrecht.

• Volunteer Raylee Hertnon in the operations room. BELOW: The place has seen better days. Photos by Eddie Albrecht.

Mr Martin says there are operational issues behind the planned move, too.

“There is an increasing amount of electrical interference from neighbouring workshops, the building itself is dated and too costly to renovate, while Monument and Cantonment hills obstruct radio signals from the river.

“Cantonment Hill is just a much better position to monitor radio traffic. It’s the highest point and gives us a clear line of sight over the Swan and Canning rivers and out to Rottnest and beyond which is important when monitoring radio traffic.

“We’d also like to make the working environment a lot safer for our volunteers.”

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Mr Martin says the group has just spent $100,000 upgrading systems to route radio traffic through the internet, a set up that could transfer to the signal station. “What this means is our volunteers can log in from home or anywhere in the world where they can get an internet connection. Other volunteer sea rescue groups around the state—which don’t have the resources to monitor 24/7—are looking at our system and they can piggyback off ours, so it potentially makes Cantonment Hill a really important point for marine safety when these groups gain remote access system.”

Mr Martin says the group had estimated a retail fit-out would cost about $150,000, on top of work the council has indicated it would do to get the building up to scratch.

He is hopeful of attracting a major sponsor for the fit-out, ideally a construction company. A deal breaker could be the state of the mast on the roof.

“The biggest unknown is the state of the mast on top,” he says. “The mast is still the original, I believe, making it about 60 years old, and being a heritage restoration it would have to be done sympathetically.

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“Realistically, if the mast needs replacing or costly repairs then this could be a deal breaker.”

Mr Martin is quietly confident the council will view the group’s request sympathetically—it sailed through a discussion two weeks ago—and the council’s own report says that providing a lease to FVSR would be a “first stage in phased activation of the Signal Station and surrounding area”, a long-held council ambition.

The council is considering charging the group a peppercorn rent of $1 a year.

The move to Cantonment Hill could lead to the establishment of a Marine Operations Centre, making it an important resource in marine safety in the state.

Mr Martin says the volunteer group conducted 712 rescues in 2013 and 674 last year making it the busiest volunteer sea rescue group in Australia.


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