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VOLUNTEER coastguard teams in Shetland are upset about the way they were treated as part of the government’s consultation on whether or not to close the Lerwick coastguard coordinating station.
It has emerged that the 128 coastguard volunteers in the isles were never asked or told of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) plans to close the station, located at The Knab, in Lerwick. A 14 week consultation period is now under way.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott met at the weekend with 22 of the station’s officers and their deputies to hear their concerns.
The volunteers’ local knowledge is often crucial to the success of rescue operations. Organised in 16 units between Fair Isle and Unst, the volunteers work closely with the watch officers at the Lerwick station.
Spokesman David Hopwood said: “It beggars belief that they could even propose this level of re-organisation without consulting anybody. In this day and age you just can’t do this.
“They are only consulting now because their hand was forced by MP Alistair Carmichael. Without him we would not have this consultation, just redundancy notices for those who work in the Lerwick station.”
He added that the consultation document was full of inaccuracies ranging from the number and type of incidents coastguards are dealing with to the level of non-incident services the station delivers to a seafaring community.
He added: “Along with the emergency tugs the coastguard station at The Knab has a very visible presence, and that gives an island community such as ours a degree of reassurance.
“It is that reassurance that the government is serious about maritime safety that is not even mentioned in the consultation paper. It is a little bit like having comprehensive insurance or just third party insurance.
“You can get away with third party insurance, but most people prefer the reassurance and the back-up that comprehensive insurance gives you. But the theme of the consultation document seems to be anything but re-assurance, it is just about cost-cutting.”
Mr Scott added: “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.”
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, Mr Scott said.
“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.
“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,” he added.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader will meet with first minister Alex Salmond later this week to discuss a national campaign to keep coastguard stations in Lerwick and in Stornoway open.
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