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THE CAMPAIGN to save Shetland coastguard station has grown during the 36 hours since the coalition government announced the most radical overhaul of maritime safety in 40 years.
A Facebook site Save Shetland Coastguard is well on its way to attracting 2,000 supporters in its first 24 hours, with calls growing for the online campaign to encompass all the coastguard stations in Scotland.
On Thursday shipping minister Mike Penning announced a 14 week consultation on the plans to reduce the number of coastguard stations from 18 to eight, with just three operating 24 hours a day in Aberdeen, Dover and Southampton/Portsmouth.
Shetland and Stornoway are being pitted against each other as the only other station in Scotland, but would only be open during daylight hours.
Stornoway is understood to have been the preferred option as the government believes it to be cheaper to run, though this is disputed within coastguard circles.
Questions have been raised over whether it is feasible to provide a coastguard service from Aberdeen covering the Shetland area due to the dependence on a microwave communications link.
Recent failures of broadband and telephone services caused by weather and civil engineering disruption on Orkney and the Scottish mainland have shown how vulnerable the communications system in Shetland is.
In last month coastguard officers had to communicate using radios and mobile phones from the top of hills when its IT systems failed following a lighting strike on a BT relay station in Sanday.
Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael and Shetland MSP Tavish Scott have pledged to campaign hard against the closure of the Shetland coastguard station.
Mr Scott, who tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday opposing the closure of both Shetland and Stornoway stations, said: “Scotland needs to keep coastguard stations in Lerwick and Stornoway. Together they cover very large and complex areas of sea and coastline, including key deepwater oil fields.
“Compared to the coast of England, the coastline in the highlands and islands is very complex and marine safety depends on those in charge having good local knowledge.
“The local knowledge of their area built up and held by the teams in both stations is invaluable and keeps safe those who travel and earn their living on and around our seas. Officers in a single station could not possibly keep and develop the same degree of this vital local knowledge.”
European environmental organisation KIMO has accused the government of sacrificing safety to save money, saying the closures would slow down decision making and “increase the window for catastrophe”.
KIMO UK coordinator Tom Piper said: “We feel the cuts are purely being made on a cost basis and have nothing to do with modernisation. How else would you explain cutting more that 50 per cent of our emergency response coordination capabilities at a time when our seas are getting busier and busier?”
Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills has called for a special meeting of the Shetland Marine Safety Sub-Committee to discuss “the foolhardy proposal…as soon as possible” along with the plan to remove the coastguard’s emergency towing vessel from northern waters.
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