Scottish Ministers oppose Coastguard cuts
Scottish government Ministers have reacted angrily to plans by the UK government to cut back Coastguard stations which they say will threaten maritime safety in the North Sea.
The row has been sparked after a UK government consultation which suggests closing Clyde and Forth coastguard stations in Scotland, and downgrading the one in Aberdeen which serves the marine traffic in the North Sea offshore oil industry.
Rescue-coordination for North Sea emergencies could be handed from Southampton or even the cross-Channel port of Dover rather than Aberdeen under UK government proposals, the Ministers fear.
“The UK Government’s plans for coastguard operations would deliver a triple blow to Scotland’s maritime safety and must be halted,” said Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Environment Secretary, in a joint statement issued with Scotland’s Transport Minister Keith Brown.
Both Scottish ministers want the UK Minister of Transport Mike Penning to reconsider his plans for rationalising coastguard stations in Scotland in a joint letter.
“Closing Clyde and Forth coastguard stations, downgrading Aberdeen and – despite a three month reprieve – the possible removal of the two emergency tugs, would compromise safety and are moves heavily weighted towards saving money instead of saving lives,” the two Scottish ministers claim.
“The Aberdeen Rescue Co-ordination Centre is strategically placed at the centre of the oil and gas industry. Therefore, it’s very worrying that offshore energy incidents could instead be handled from the Southampton Marine Operations Centre (MOC). It’s also completely unjustifiable that Dover is proposed as the UK’s shadow MOC rather than Aberdeen.
Brown and Lochhead have accepted the principle that the Coastguard service has to change, but they have clearly indicated their resentment over the plans coming out of Westminster.
Under Westminster’s plans, the number of Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres cut from five to three. The Scottish government points out that Scotland has 60% of the coastline of Great Britain, yet the proposals would leave Scotland with just one third of the coastguard stations around the UK.
“Once again Scotland is being used as the guinea pig for UK Government plans that clearly place cost savings ahead of marine safety,” the Scottish ministers have stated. “Clyde Coastguard oversees the busiest recreational area in Scottish waters, with intense and varied maritime use. It’s unacceptable that such a large area could be covered from Belfast,” the Ministers say.
“Furthermore, the scale and incoherent nature of the cuts proposed – which also include reviewing the Air Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Kinloss and scrapping the Nimrods – underline the risks that the marine environment and the people who use our seas are being exposed to.
"That’s why marine safety and control of coastguard operations should be fully devolved to Holyrood [the home of the Scottish Parliament], so that decisions impacting on the safety of our seas are made in Scotland with Scottish interests at the fore.”