TV celebrity Simon King has lent his weight to the campaign to save the Shetland coastguard station. The wildlife programme presenter who adores the islands said all who visit or live there would be threatened if the station is closed or reduced to daylight hours by the UK government.
He said: “Shetland is a land of sea and storms. The coastguard is an invaluable service to residents and visitors alike, from assistance with an eye on the weather to mobilising rescues and saving lives.”
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is hosting a consultation on the proposed cuts until 24th March. It includes closing the station in either Shetland or the Western Isles and reducing the other one to operating during daylight hours. At night, search and rescue operations would be co-ordinated from Aberdeen.
Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness pledged that the case to keep the stations open at both Lerwick and Stornoway would be put to the government as soon as possible.
In a strong condemnation of the “London-based decision” to cut the stations, he said it was “beyond belief” that the government was prepared to put lives at risk off Shetland while raking in the profits of offshore oil exploitation.
“I simply cannot understand how they would take such a step,” he said. “It would only take one major disaster to prove just how badly wrong they are. What they are doing with this is putting many lives at risk.”
He added: “The British government will receive enormous income from the west of Shetland and to think that they are not prepared to protect those men and women who are going out there to achieve that for them is beyond belief.”
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, who is the government’s deputy chief whip, is to meet staff at the station in Lerwick later this week to discuss the threat to their jobs.
Staff members in Shetland are involved in the Save Our Station – Save Shetland Coastguard campaign and are using their unofficial coastguard website at www.shetlandcoastguard.info to help in their efforts.
According to the PCS union, Shetland Coastguard watches over an area of about 36,500 square miles which is subject to gales at any time of year reaching up to hurricane force 12 with waves over 11 metres high.
Mike Smith of the Shetland Coastguard branch of the union drew attention to the sheer number and diversity of marine traffic in the area, including 57 cruise ships due at Lerwick this year, an international fishing fleet, oil-related shipping and nearly 1,000 merchant ships passing through the Fair Isle channel last year which reported in to Shetland Coastguard. As well as the bigger craft there are hundreds of pleasure boats dotted around the islands and many visiting yachts.
Campaign petitions are in local shops or can be signed on the internet at www.gopetition.com/petition/41468.html where it has attracted more than 1,560 signatures so far.