20th October 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Coastguard in ‘dire state’ due to staff shortages

1 comment, , by , in Headlines, News

Staffing at Lerwick’s coastguard station remains in a “dire state”, with a shortfall in qualified staff at the Knab Road premises.

Seventeen watches are expected to be left under­manned this month, according to local representative from the PCS Union, Errol Smith.

He says the problem could leave the station relying on the goodwill of off-duty workers being drafted in to help in the event of a major incident.

The issue is not helped by the bigger patch Shetland Coastguard has been asked to watch over. Staff at the Knab are responsible for 43,840 nautical square miles, which stretches as far south 58 degrees at Helmsdale in Sutherland.

“Staffing levels at Shetland, for qualified staff, is in a dire state. We’re just managing to cover the watches, and in fact some of them we’re not covering,” said Mr Smith.

“This month – October – there are 17 watches undermanned.

“Day-to-day running it’s not really a problem, because you can still answer the phones. It’s only if you have a major, or multiple, incidents running that you are going to have problems.

“What you would do is probably phone around and drag guys in and bolster the watch if there was something like that happening. That’s down to the good-will of staff, and that’s if you can get anybody.”

Last year the coastguard played a major part in the Super Puma helicopter tragedy off Sumburgh, in which four people died. More recently, Shetland Coastguard was called upon to help a vessel carrying nuclear waste which caught fire and began drifting.

The union rep said 18-and-a-half full-time equivalent members of staff work at the Knab, which should have 20 as its full tally.

But while that may not sound like a serious shortfall, four of those are “brand new” and still require assistance from more experienced staff. Two, he said, are resigning at the end of the month.

“So that brings us down to 12-and-a-half qualified staff next month.”
He added some shortages were being covered with workers being taken back on temporary contracts.

“I think really the morale is just at rock bottom with the uncertainties at the moment.”
Mr Smith’s comments follow reports in the national media that coastguard staffing elsewhere in the country has reached crisis level, with stations haemorrhaging staff since a controversial series of cut-backs took place in recent years.

Those cuts almost led to the Lerwick station being closed, when it was pitched, unwillingly, into a battle for survival against its Stornoway counterpart.

After a lengthy campaign to save both the island stations the Forth and Clyde centres were instead earmarked for closure. South of the border Portland, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Brixham, Thames and Swansea were all given the chop. The changes mean Lerwick and Aberdeen cover the whole of the east coast of Scotland.

The MCA said its modernisation programme would lead to better and more rewarding jobs.
A statement said: “One of the key outcomes from the modernisation of HM Coastguard will be more rewarding coastguard jobs, with additional respon­sibilities and the appropriate pay to match; the govern­ment remains fully committed to achieving this.

“These are new roles that attract a different rate of pay, and staff will need to apply for these. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) worked with Trade Unions and other government stakeholders to deliver this.

“A pay remit has been developed and agreed with HM Treasury. Coastguard officers who are successful in this recruitment will be paid at the new rate when they take up a new coastguard job.”

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

View other stories by »

One comment

  1. Neil Cummins

    I would suggest you check the facts. The larger “patch” has not notably increased the number of incidents dealt with each year. A number of recruitment campaigns have failed to attract suitable candidates, something we have suffered from for many years due to the relatively small catchment.

    Reply

Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.