The loss of Shetland’s coastguard station and tug could cost the local economy more than £1 million a year, according to a report prepared for councillors ahead of next week’s debate on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s controversial proposals.
Closing the station at the Knab in Lerwick will mean the loss of £750,000 while £275,000 will go if the emergency vessel currently stationed in the isles is removed.
The report, written by harbourmaster Roger Moore and environmental liaison official John Mouat, recommends that the coastguard station be retained, warning that communications between the isles and the Scottish mainland are not robust enough to ensure contact can be maintained at all times. It also demands retention of the tug.
Councillors will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report, which will form the SIC’s response to the MCA consultation on closing either the Shetland or Stornoway station and reducing the hours at the remaining station to daylight hours only.
“The consultation document does not take into consideration the reliability of the communication links between the mainland and outlying island groups, such as Shetland,” the report states.
“In the event of a major deep-water spill to the west of Shetland, similar to that of the Gulf of Mexico, the resources required to co-ordinate and respond are likely to overwhelm the proposed structure and leave Shetland more vulnerable.”
The response also pours scorn on the MCA’s plans daylight only opening.
“The daylight hours in the far north of Scotland, including Shetland, vary substantially dependent on the seasons. This would make the value of the proposed daylight operation scenario for either Stornoway or Shetland questionable.”
It adds: “The consultation states the busiest centres handle over five times as many incidents as the quietest. It is hard to understand why there has been no apparent attempt to weight the severity or duration of incidents.
“In the warmer and more populated southern regions, the number of minor incidents which are quickly dealt with … compared to the response required for incidents such as the Bourbon Dolphin (four days, 24-hour response) does not seem to be taken into account.
“The consultation document refers to current weaknesses in the 40-year-old system. However the staff and equipment in the MRCCs have continually become more sophisticated and the staff more highly trained. It is not the case that all coastguard officers do is stand with a pair of binoculars at the window.”
The report also points to “bitter experience” of centralised call centres and their failure to deliver an adequate service.
It cites the NHS 24 call centre as one which has “regularly tasked medical response to the wrong settlements of similar names and occasionally to the wrong island groups”.
“The FiReControl system for England and Wales, which effectively proposed centralised call centres, has cost the public purse £435 million with ongoing costs, even though the system has now been scrapped.
“The proposed structure will effectively mean that all local knowledge is slowly lost as staff advance through their training and get assigned different and new roles as part of their training and advancement.”