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Coastguard area of operations set to expand

SHETLAND coastguard is likely to be responsible for a vastly increased area of operations by the end of the year.

Negotiations have been ongoing between the PCS union and Marine & Coastguard Agency management since last year when the government bowed to pressure to close half of its coastguard stations, including Lerwick.

However with the decision to close Forth and Clyde in Scotland, new arrangements are being discussed for future operations.

With Aberdeen having to cover Forth area and Stornoway taking responsibility for Clyde, Shetland is looks set to see its patch spreading to Cape Wrath in the south west and Ord Point south of Wick on the south east.

This will bring the busy Pentland Firth sea lane into their jurisdiction, while the northern and eastern borders will continue to be bounded by Norwegian and Icelandic waters.

Other changes include a new maritime operations centre (MOC) in Fareham, Hampshire, currently under construction in a former fire station between Portsmouth and Southampton.

In the event of a major incident, the MOC will take control of back up and routine operations while the local station will be the front line.

Coastguard staff will be expected to take on greater responsibilities, such as monitoring security issues, which should in turn lead to a better pay deal. One proposal on the table is for every officer to move up a pay grade, creating substantial benefits for some.

Shetland coastguard PCS branch treasurer Bob Skinley said the staff wanted to thank the local community for all their support in the campaign to keep the station open last year.

“It was one of those occasions where you think you are too small to matter, but we did matter. A small community said no to central government, and we could not have succeeded without all the support we had from the community,” he said.

“As for the future, our areas are likely to get a bit bigger and we will be asked to take on more responsibilities, but the hopeful outcome of that is that we will get paid a lot more.”