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Isles officers impress coastguard inquiry

SHETLAND coastguard officers impressed the House of Commons transport select committee with their warning about the risks of proposed changes to the service, according to a local councillor attending a hearing in Stornoway on Thursday.

A five strong delegation from Shetland attended the hearing to explain why it would be irresponsible to have just one full time coastguard station covering the whole of Scotland and ultimately lead to the loss of lives.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have proposed Aberdeen as Scotland’s only 24 hour station with either Stornoway or Shetland supporting on a day-time only basis.

The select committee, chaired by Liverpool MP Louise Ellman, heard from Shetland coastguard officers Alex Dodge and Bob Skinley, as well as councillor Jonathan Wills. The council’s assistant chief executive Willie Shannon, and environment officer John Mouat had also travelled to Stornoway.

Others giving evidence on Thursday were Dr Michael Foxley of Highland Council, Angus Campbell of Western Isles Council, and Robert Patterson of Oil and Gas UK.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Skinley said: “The oral session went exceptionally well. The impression we got was that the committee was as depressed with the proposals as we are. They clearly have a lot of reservations and a lot of questions to ask the management next week.

“What impressed me was the consistency of the concerns and the arguments made coming from the coastguards, the councils, KIMO and indeed the oil industry.”

Mrs Dodge added: “I think the transport select committee got plenty of evidence and information from everybody here to allow them to write a really good report which, we hope, the MCA will listen to.”

Dr Wills, who gave evidence on behalf of Shetland Islands Council, said Mr Skinley and Mrs Dodge demolished the MCA’s case for streamlining.

“I think the MPs were extremely impressed with what these coastguard officers had to say, and can now understand why the MCA did not want them to appear before the committee.”

He added that the government was failing in its main duty of protecting lives and the environment should these proposals go ahead.

“What they are doing is undermining and dismembering a system of coastguard stations, Nimrod aircraft surveillance flights, offshore fire fighting capability and the offshore towing vessels.

“They are all components of a package that works. They are failing in their primary duty to the public,” he said.

MCA chief executive Sir Allan Massie and shipping minister Mike Penning are due to give evidence on 24 May. A final report from the select committee is expected later in June.

Meanwhile coastguard officers dismissed the latest speculation that the UK government was backtracking on its original proposal.

Unless they had an official “black on white” statement that Shetland and Stornoway coastguard stations were save the fight would go on, they said.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021