One of the UK's busiest coastguard stations which watches over some of the most treacherous seas in the world was left dangerously understaffed due to Government cutbacks, it has been claimed.
According to figures released by the Public and Commercial Services union, more than a third of shifts at Falmouth coastguard station have been staffed below safe levels.
During the summer months in 2012 when demand for the emergency service was at its peak, the picture was even worse.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the figures were all the more worrying as the Government had already embarked on a programme to axe coastguard stations, including two covering the Westcountry.
"It is truly shocking that coastguard stations are so regularly running below safe levels and this must be addressed as a priority," he said. "We have never been convinced of the government's case for the closure of half of our coastguard stations and believe public safety is being compromised in the drive to make cuts."
According to figures obtained from Maritime and Coastguard Agency data, between January 2012 and May 2013 Falmouth was among the five worst affected stations in the UK in terms of poor staffing levels. At the station, there were a total of 370 – or 35.7% – of 1,034 watches staffed below risk assessed levels.
Between May and September last year – the busiest period – this jumped to 50%, some 153 of 306 watches.
The PCS said that across the UK, almost a quarter of all watches were staffed below the risk levels.
The union says the figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, paint a deeply troubling picture as the government presses ahead with plans to close nine of the UK's 19 coastguard stations and cut 140 jobs.
The axed centres that will be closed by the end of March 2015 include Brixham in South Devon, Portland in Dorset, and Swansea, which covers North Devon waters.
Falmouth coastguard station, which will be the only maritime outpost in the region, will operate 24 hours a day.
A spokesman for the MCA said the figures were not disputed, however he said things had improved.
"The MCA recently completed a recruitment campaign where 28 Watch Officer vacancies were filled at locations around the coast."
He said that pairing arrangements were available for cover if one station was under-manned.
The spokesman added that in future the network of coastguard stations would be carefully co-ordinated enabling incidents to be better managed.