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Marine / Fishermen’s association thanks emergency services after rescue

Meanwhile Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the incident showed why plans to increase the coastguard helicopter response time is a ‘bad idea’

SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association has thanked the emergency services for rescuing eight crew from the local fishing boat Opportune at the weekend after she sank off Shetland.

The association said in a “fishing community like ours, nothing hits home harder than seeing a boat go down – thankfully, on this occasion, no lives were lost with it”.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has confirmed that it has been notified of the incident and said a team of inspectors have been deployed to start an investigation into the loss.

Meanwhile Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the incident showed how valuable the services were to Shetland, adding that it showed why response times for the coastguard helicopter should not change.

The alarm was raised at around 5am on Sunday, with  Lerwick lifeboat and the Sumburgh-based coastguard helicopter both sent to the scene around 36 nautical miles north east of Bressay.

A Norwegian search and rescue helicopter was also scrambled.

Six crew members were airlifted by the Sumburgh helicopter and two by the Norwegian one, with the fishermen taken from liferafts in what was described as rough seas.

With all crew accounted for, they were flown to Sumburgh Airport. They were later confirmed to be safe and well.

There was also a small campaign on social media for people to donate clothes to the non-local crew members.

The fishing vessel, 27 metres in length, took in water at its stern and quickly sank.

The coastguard said the fact that the boat was carrying all of the right equipment, including an emergency position indicating radio beacon, “undoubtedly saved their lives”.

In a statement published on social media, Shetland Fishermen’s Association said it wished to express its “heartfelt thanks” to the emergency services for their quick and effective response.

“It has been a distressing reminder of the dangers at sea, and – with such shipping activity around our isles – the pressing and obvious need to always retain Shetland’s excellent search and rescue capability, which all seafarers rely on when the worst does happen,” it added.

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The Opportune. Photo: Sydney Sinclair

“The crew of the Opportune are understandably shaken by what has happened, but are all safely back in Shetland – with industry and wider community initiatives underway to ensure that they are well cared for.”

Referring to controversial plans by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to lengthening maximum response times at the Sumburgh coastguard base, Carmichael highlighted the vital role the helicopter plays.

“If anyone were looking for reasons why quadrupling the coastguard helicopter’s response time is a bad idea, you have eight good reasons right here,” he said.

“Successful operations such as these really go to show just how valuable these services, both professional and voluntary, are to the isles. We cannot appreciate their work enough.

“The blunt truth is that the more you cut back these services the more likely it will be that people fall through the gaps and lives are lost.

“The proposed change to readiness at Sumburgh would have a material impact on callouts just like this one – particularly as unlike most emergency services on the mainland there is not really any alternative available.

“Suggestions about changing the search and rescue service in the isles must take into account not just the number of callouts handled but the nature of those calls. They are materially different from most other parts of the country.

“We cannot take the safety of people at sea for granted – and we cannot afford to wait until something goes wrong to recognise the danger of reducing coverage.”

It emerged last year that the “readiness state” for the Sumburgh based helicopter is in line to increase from 15 minutes during the day and 45 at night to 60 minutes from October 2026.

However the UK Government is currently undertaking a review of demand for the search and rescue service, which is due to be published by the end of the year.

When asked about the situation by Carmichael in parliament recently, parliamentary under secretary of state for roads and local transport Anthony Browne MP added: “I should say we are investing £1bn in the SAR service and the number of bases will be going from ten to twelve overall.

“There will be no closure of bases, and there will be no change to the services in Orkney and Shetland before October 2026.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart also said she was thankful the crew of the Opportune were safe and well, and noted her respect for all those involved in the rescue.

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