Recurring communications problems between Shetland and the Scottish mainland mean proposals to close the Lerwick coastguard station and rely on Aberdeen to co-ordinate local volunteers will put people’s lives at risk, according to isles MSP Tavish Scott.
Mr Scott, who met volunteers from around Shetland at the weekend to discuss the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to shut either Lerwick or Stornoway and reduce the other to daytime opening hours, is to seek the support of First Minister Alex Salmond this week to save both stations.
Mr Scott said: “These proposals take volunteer coastguards totally for granted. The MCA expects that volunteers will respond at any time to a call out and that is what people around the coast of Shetland do. But the Lerwick station plays a fundamental role in co-ordinating these call-outs, getting the locations of incidents right and providing the communications that allow the volunteers to report on situations.
“If the Lerwick Station closes, then this will be done from Aberdeen, which will be incredibly busy as it will be handling any incident anywhere around Scotland. I don’t believe that Aberdeen can possibly do that. I listened carefully to Shetland’s volunteer coastguards. People’s lives will be put at risk if these MCA proposals are implemented.
“Shetland has had many communications problems of late, from non-existent to slow broadband to full failures of phones, pagers and mobiles. Yet the MCA has no agreement with BT over the necessity of upgrading the physical connections. So, if the Lerwick station is closed, then there is a truly frightening potential for lifesaving communications to be worse.”
Mr Scott added: “It’s now abundantly clear that the MCA have devised a centralisation model to suit the south coast of England. They seem appallingly complacent about safety around our coast. These proposals are fundamentally flawed. Volunteer coastguards around Shetland have provided a sterling lifesaving service for years. Yet they haven’t even had the courtesy of a letter explaining the proposals from the MCA.”