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Background Info

On 16 December 2010 the Maritime and Coastguard Agency announced its plans to make sweeping cuts to the UK coastguard services. These plans involve major changes, including closure of many stations and downgrading of the majority of those that remain to daytime only operations. The MCA’s proposals are currently under a period of consultation, which closes on 24 March 2011.

Stornoway and Shetland Coastguard stations are under threat of closure or being downgraded to a daylight only station. The effect of the changes will severely cut the ability of HM Coastguard to respond promptly and effectively to persons in distress.

If the MCA is successful in its savage cuts there will only be one 24 hour fully manned station in Scotland, located in Aberdeen, and one daylight station to support it at either Stornoway or Shetland, the decision of which is dependent on the consultation process. Three of the five Coastguard stations currently operating in Scotland will be closed: Forth, based at Fife Ness, in 2011/12, Clyde in 2012/13 and either Stornoway or Shetland in 2013/14.

In addition, should Stornoway be closed, there will be no maritime coordination centre for the entire west coast of Scotland, the nearest coastguard stations being Aberdeen on the east coast and either Belfast or Liverpool on the west coast. Combined with the closure of Clyde Coastguard, this leads to what we believe is an unacceptable situation.

As a result of the closures, operational staff numbers would be cut from 113 to 74, not including administrative staff whose numbers would also be drastically effected. The only station to see an increase in staff would be Aberdeen, from 29 to 64. However, many current staff in stations faced with closure will be unwilling or unable to relocate to Aberdeen, especially given house prices in this area are significantly higher than most other locations in Scotland.

We believe this would result in staff shortages and reduce the cover in Scotland to untrained and inexperienced staff, which will put lives at sea and on the coast at risk. Furthermore, the lack of staff with local knowledge and
experience would severely hamper local agencies to respond to incidents. A recent incident involved a fishing vessel reporting that they were aground on the “chicken”, which to local experienced staff gave the position a few miles outside Stornoway Harbour. Would an operator in Aberdeen or elsewhere be able to make the same rapid pinpointing of the distressed vessels position?

Lack of local knowledge and resources could also have had a devastating impact on the environment when the nuclear submarine “Astute” went aground off Skye. It was through local knowledge that the correct units were
despatched to assist and a catastrophe was averted.

Finally, it is alarming to note that no formal risk assessment has been carried out on the proposed plan to ensure that safety is not compromised. 

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