THE Maritime Minister met volunteers from Oxfordshire Lowland Search and Rescue Service (OxSAR) yesterday, as she relaunched a £1 million fund which has helped the organisation continue its operations.

As part of the UK's first Maritime Safety Week, Department for Transport minister Nusrat Ghani visited Port Meadow in Wolvercote to talk to volunteers and reopen a nationwide fund for rescue boats and equipment.

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Now in its sixth year, the fund has already paid for thousands of items of rescue equipment, including some used by local search and rescue team OxSAR.

The organisation has received about £40,000 from the fund to buy various pieces of kit to help find and rescue people.

Chairman David Woodgate explained: "The fund has been going for the last few years and we have applied for two separate grants in 2017 and 2018.

"We have been successful in our applications, which has allowed us to stay operational with our water capability.

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"We have equipped ourselves with a new boat, engine and trailer."

OxSAR has been involved in more than 50 searches this year, but normally average around one call out a week.

Noting the importance of kit maintenance, Mr Woodgate continued: "We have in water search capability so we need dry suits, personal floatation devices, helmets, knives, whistles, boots, all that very specialised equipment to fit all our team members.

"This allowed us to fund that - and actually the recent searches we've done in Oxford have used all this kit quite extensively."

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Search and rescue teams across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were able to begin bidding for the cash for new equipment from yesterday.

So far, the £6million scheme has paid for 82 new boats, more than 1,800 items of equipment for rescue operations and in excess of 5,000 items of crew kit to keep volunteers safe on missions.

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Ms Ghani said: “We want everyone to be safe on or around water, but occasionally people get into trouble.

“These charities do amazing work and I’ve seen first hand how they help people in their hour of need."

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She continued: "We've got £1 million that is part of a commitment in trying to tackle accidental deaths in our waters and to support volunteers, that we have here in Oxford, who undertake search and rescue.

“I’m proud that this fund has already helped more than 100 groups buy the vital boats and equipment they need to rescue those in need. I want to see even more people benefit from this fund this year.”

At the start of the week, the Government launched its Maritime Safety Action Plan, which sets out targets to cut the number of preventable deaths on UK waterways.

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OxSAR volunteer Rebekka Welch added: "The fund allows us to purchase items such as the [highly specialised searching] camera, a new boat and kit to support the most vulnerable people in our community."