Royal Navy search and rescue helicopters from RNAS Culdrose could lose their vital lifesaving role if plans to privatise the service became a reality.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is reviewing the future of the air sea rescue service, but has stressed that putting it out to tender is just one option.

The possibility has prompted widespread criticism, not least from local fishermen and other boat owners, who claim lives could be put at risk if a profit-making company took over the service.

The distinctive red and grey Sea Kings are regularly in action around the Cornish coastline and Culdrose personnel have received awards for a string of heroic rescues, including last year's floods in Boscastle.

Only this week, a crew from Culdrose-based 771 search and rescue squadron plucked to safety a child who got into difficulties while swimming off Poldhu Cove, near Mullion - just one of a series of successful missions carried out over the Bank Holiday weekend.

The Sea King helicopters currently used by the squadron will reach the end of their operational life in 2012.

(For more on this story see this week's Helston Packet)