SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Dr Aileen McLeod has highlighted serious concerns over new figures obtained by Coastguard SOS, which show critical levels of understaffing of the coastguard service on the West Coast of Scotland.
The figures show that the Belfast coastguard station, which now has responsibility for the ferry routes between Stranraer and Northern Ireland, has the biggest understaffing problem in the UK despite also holding responsibility for Scotland’s west coast, after the centre on the Clyde was closed.
Concerns were also raised earlier this month regarding dangerous levels of understaffing at the Aberdeen coastguard centre, which led Coastguard SOS’s Dennis O’Connor to call for powers over the Coastguard to be passed to Scotland, rather than the “dangerously incompetent” UK Government.
Dr McLeod, who campaigned against the proposed closures of Clyde and Liverpool MRCC, both of which share responsibility for Dumfries & Galloway’s coast, commented:
“These latest figures make very worrying reading, and demonstrate the utter folly of Westminster’s decision to axe the coastguard centre on the Clyde.
“Closing that centre, which had responsibility for the busy north channel ferry routes, and losing valuable local knowledge was bad enough, but for the replacement service in Belfast to be dangerously understaffed is completely unacceptable.
“These figures are even more worrying since Liverpool MRCC, which covers the Solway up to the Mull of Galloway is also set to close next year. The understaffing problems at Belfast must call the wisdom of proceeding with these closures into question.
“I am very cautious indeed about suggesting that any Government’s policies might put lives at risk but these figures actually refer to staffing falling below safe levels. For Belfast that was the case for over 80% of the time during four months last year.
“Scotland’s coastguard services are poorly served by Westminster, and it is no wonder that experts are calling for responsibility in this area to be held by the Scottish Government. I will be writing to the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, to raise these concerns with him and call on him to at the very least reconsider proceeding any further with the closure plans.
“Ultimately only independence will make sure Scotland has the power to properly protect our coasts.”
Notes to editors:
· Coastguard SOS is a campaign organisation set up to fight Westminster’s cuts to the Coastguard service.