The River Thames in East London forms part of the busiest stretch of water for lifeboat rescues in the United Kingdom, according to data released yesterday by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The Tower lifeboat station, based under Waterloo Bridge, is responsible for providing services for the Thames waterfront in Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. The station was responsible for 491 launches in 2010, compared to 380 in 2009, and rescued 113 people in distress on the river.
Helmsman, Will Ellwood, told ELL that the Thames in Tower Hamlets is a particularly demanding stretch of water. Ellwood explained: “The area around Tower Bridge is always busy and a popular spot for people to draw attention to themselves. We regularly pull people from the water. Usually they’re quite happy and compliant, but some attempting suicide try to climb back out of the boats.”
On one occasion last summer a 40-foot yacht required rescue after drifting into Tower Bridge. The mast became entangled in the bridge’s steel structure causing chaos for river traffic.
St Katherine’s Dock in Tower Hamlets is another accident hotspot due to high volumes of traffic. There is an increasing number of leisure craft and party boats out and about, often with as many as 30 boats waiting for the lock to open.
The lifeboat service is well positioned to cope with the increasing demand, as they have been successful in pulling in more volunteers and a new faster boat is due to arrive in the summer. £308,000 has already been raised to fund the E-class vessel, which will cost a total of £350,000.
Will Ellwood added that many people are not aware that there is a coastguard service in London: “If anyone sees people or boats in distress on the river, then they should call 999 immediately. This is the fastest way to get help where it’s needed without delay.”
National Lifeboat Awareness Day is on Friday 28th January and a host of fund-raising activities will be taking place across the area to raise the additional funds required.