Thank you for inviting me to lead celebrations for the launch of the UK’s search and rescue helicopter service here in Prestwick.
Today (18 December 2015) we mark a historic occasion; the passing of search and rescue operations from the British military to Bristow Helicopters Ltd, operating on behalf of Her Majesty’s Coastguard.
I would like to start by paying tribute to the Royal Navy’s search and rescue unit at HMS Gannet.
From 1 January, the unit will stand down responsibility for search and rescue duties and will hand that responsibility over to the Bristow crew here at Prestwick.
The UK government is very grateful for the lifesaving work you have done since HMS Gannett was established here in Prestwick in 1971, and will continue to do until the end of the year.
It cannot be overstated how much we all appreciate the vital work of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter crews and engineers.
For over 60 years, you have worked around the clock in all weathers to rescue tens of thousands of people, and in doing so have saved many lives.
You have set the bar for search and rescue very high indeed.
It now falls to Bristow to continue to clear that high bar.
And after the response to the recent flooding, when new Bristow aircraft from Caernarfon and Humberside joined forces with the Sea King from HMS Gannet to rescue people in danger, I am confident that Bristow will do their search and rescue forerunners very proud.
Of course, Bristow has been rendering search and rescue services to Her Majesty’s Government for over 30 years.
And that service will continue here in Prestwick and in 9 other places around the UK.
Your job is the single-minded pursuit of saving lives.
You will work with the best technology.
The best aircraft.
And the finest, most well-trained, and dedicated people the world of search and rescue has to offer.
Many people here today will be based at this facility and have joined from other parts of Bristow’s SAR operations.
Others have taken the decision to leave behind their military careers to stay with search and rescue.
And still others are volunteers.
I am very proud to speak on behalf of the whole of Her Majesty’s government when I express our gratitude for the daring and endeavour of those who go out in all weathers, night or day, at a moment’s notice, to bring people in danger safely back to dry land and their homes and families, or indeed to, sadly, have to recover the bodies of those lost at sea.
Of course, the crews could not do their jobs but for the highly-skilled engineers and support staff also here today.
I know that everyone will carry out their jobs with the utmost professionalism and commitment to their task.
And in doing so, you will be working with some magnificent machines.
As minister responsible for Her Majesty’s Coastguard, I am delighted to see these wonderful Sikorsky aircraft bearing HM Coastguard livery.
Sikorsky has provided search and rescue helicopters for coastguard operations since 1983, starting with the Sikorsky S61s which operated from the coastguard base in Shetland.
Over 20 state-of-the-art aircraft like the ones you see here today are already operating throughout the UK as part of our new UK search and rescue helicopter service, operated and maintained by 200 pilots, technical crew, and engineers.
And they are just one example of the state-of-the-art search and rescue technologies that will be available at Prestwick and across the UK.
The UK government has put £2 billion into our search and rescue services and over £70 million of that has been spent here in Prestwick.
It’s a great example of where the UK government is co-ordinating vital work across the whole country.
So I know this facility will give you the very best chance of succeeding in your missions.
And I wish you many, many successful missions in the years ahead.
So thank you for the work you do.
Thank you for serving our country.
And thank you, ahead of time, for all the lives you will save from Prestwick and the 9 other bases across the UK.