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MCA removes coastguard gagging order

THE GOVERNMENT has caved in to the outcry over its refusal to allow Shetland coastguard officers to give evidence to the House of Common transport select committee.

Last week the Maritime & Coastguard Agency instructed their officers at the closure-threatened Lerwick coastguard co-ordinating station to decline any invitation to speak at the select committee’s inquiry, when it sits in Stornoway on Thursday.

The move infuriated both the coastguard officers and committee chairwoman Louise Ellman MP, who accused shipping minister Mike Penning of going back on a promise to Parliament.

On Friday, five days after the original instruction, the MCA staged a U turn and said that two coastguard officers could attend the hearing as long as they did so as PCS union members rather than coastguard staff.

Union officials Alex Dodge and Bob Skinley, who will now travel to the western isles to give evidence, said that it appeared to be an exercise in semantics.

In a joint statement over the weekend, they said: “Whilst it seems to be a ridiculous exercise in splitting hairs, we are delighted to now have the proper opportunity to speak before the committee.

“Yet again the government and the MCA seem to have shot themselves in the foot over this, but at least some common sense seems to have prevailed at last.”

In December the MCA proposed halving the number of coastguard station around the UK, leaving just one 24 hour operation in Scotland in Aberdeen, supported by a daytime only service in either Lerwick or Stornoway.

In March shipping minister Mike Penning, during a visit to Shetland, said that he did not think those original proposals would come about as a result of an extensive public consultation.

The all party transport select committee is carrying out an inquiry into the coastguard proposals, along with the decision to remove the four emergency towing vessels based around the UK coastline and the offshore fire fighting service.