EMERGENCY services last night described 2011 as the worst year in history for call outs to motorists stranded on a Northumberland causeway.
The Journal has reported on a number of incidents over the last 12 months where tourists have got stuck while trying to drive between Holy Island and the mainland, often several hours outside safe crossing times and despite those times being clearly displayed at either end of the crossing.
Vehicles usually fail when they hit sea water, causing them serious damage and often meaning they have to be written off.
The incidents are also a drain on the resources of the emergency services, with the RNLI saying it costs around £1,200 each time Seahouses lifeboats are called out and the helicopter at RAF Boulmer £12,429 per flying hour.
Ryan Douglas, coastguard station officer, said the Holy Island team had been called out to 24 causeway related incidents this year.
He said: “It has been our busiest year in history, we have had a lot of tourists getting stuck on the causeway. It really has been amazing, it has increased by 100% from last year.
“There was only around 10 last year. From 2000 it increased every year. February this year we had four or five causeway incidents – that really is unheard of.”
Ian Clayton, RNLI station manager at Seahouses, revealed his crews have attended incidents on the causeway 16 times over the last 12 months, rescuing 29 adults and two children.
That takes the total number of people rescued by the lifeboats since 2000 to 190.
He said: “It has been the worst year that we can recall for incidents on that causeway.” Neither could offer an explanation as to why 2011 has been so much worse than previous years, although both agreed the island is increasingly popular with tourists meaning there is simply more people using the crossing.
The duo are both part of a working group which has been set up by Northumberland County Council to look at ways of stopping people getting caught out on the causeway.
It was formed after a public meeting held on the island by the council to discuss options. A number of solutions were discussed at the August meeting, and a petition signed by almost 150 islanders against the erection of barriers was handed to the council. The working group has since ruled that barriers will not be put up.
Mr Clayton, who has previously warned that there could eventually be a fatality at a causeway callout, said: “We suspect we will probably never cure them but if we can reduce them that will go a long way to reducing the difficulty for emergency services.
“If solutions are successful, it will dramatically reduce the number of incidents on the causeway.”
Mr Douglas concluded: “We cannot have another 24 next year.”