The campaign to save Shetland’s coastguard station has already taken off, with more than 1,600 signing up to a Facebook protest page and more maritime groups and politicians joining in the condemnation of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s cost-cutting proposals.
The agency announced yesterday that either the Lerwick or Stornoway station would close under modernisation plans that will cut the number of full-time centres around the UK to just three, with six sub-centres, and save £5 million a year over the next four years.
On the Facebook page, one post reads: “I was lucky enough to visit Shetland this summer and kayak in some of those waters. Having a coastguard service based locally is absolutely vital. A look at the coastline reveals a little of how complex the tidal streams and geography is. This is such short term view, that will cost lives.”
Another calls for the number of coastguard stations to be increased, rather than cut. “This is a monumentally stupid idea on so many, many levels. We don’t need less coastguard stations, if anything we need more.”
A third is critical of the IT system that will be needed to run the service once the cuts are made.
“The lynch pin in this proposal is a new IT system that will co-ordinate from Scilly to Unst, from Stornaway to Lowestoft; no government from Thatcher to the present has ever delivered an IT system on time and on budget, so why should this one be the exception?”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott pledged to fight for the retention of the Lerwick station. He has tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament opposing the closure of both Lerwick and Stornoway.
“The plan is wrong and is a threat to marine safety in the Northern Isles. I will strongly oppose any plan to close the Lerwick coastguard station,” he said.
“Scotland needs to keep coastguard stations in Lerwick and Stornoway. Together they cover very large and complex areas of sea and coastline, including key deepwater oil fields.
“Compared to the coast of England, the coastline in the Highlands and Islands is very complex and marine safety depends on those in charge having good local knowledge.
“The local knowledge of their area built up and held by the teams in both stations is invaluable and keeps safe those who travel and earn their living on and around our seas.
“Officers in a single station could not possibly keep and develop the same degree of this vital local knowledge.”
Maritime environmental group Kimo said the cuts would severely affect the coastguard’s ability to respond quickly to incidents at sea.
UK co-ordinator Tom Piper said: “We feel the cuts are purely being made on cost basis and have nothing to do with modernisation.
“How else would you explain cutting more than 50 per cent of our emergency response co-ordination capabilities at a time when our seas are getting busier and busier?”
Meanwhile Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills has called for a special meeting of the marine safety sub-committee to discuss the proposals. He said closing the station here would be “outrageous”.
The plan currently out for consultation is to cut the 18 rescue co-ordination centres around the country to two maritime operations centres, one in Aberdeen and the other on the south coast in the Portsmouth/Southampton area, and six sub-centres at Dover, Falmouth, Humber, Swansea, Liverpool or Belfast, as well as Shetland or Stornoway.
Only the operations centres and Dover, with its role in policing the English Channel, would remain open 24/7. The other centres would be cut to daytime only.