MSPs have criticised a decision to downgrade Aberdeen coastguard station and manage major North Sea safety operations from a base on the south coast of England.
SNP and Labour politicians said overlooking the importance of the Aberdeen station – which serves the North Sea oil and gas industry – was folly, and urged the UK Government to think again.
Transport Minister Keith Brown, speaking at Holyrood yesterday, said the move, part of a modernisation scheme to save £7million, proved the need for coastguard functions to be devolved to Holyrood. UK Shipping Minister Mike Penning confirmed this week that the coastguard station was being downgraded and staff cut by eight to 23.
The Aberdeen Coastguard Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre was put forward previously to become one of two national marine operations bases, but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency then said it should be one of eight sub-centres around the UK.
Aberdeen coastguard would retain two specialist members of staff to work with the oil and gas industry.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said downgrading the station and transferring responsibility for major North Sea incidents to the south coast of England was “potentially dangerous”.
Aberdeen South and North Kincardine MSP Maureen Watt said the experience of Aberdeen coastguard staff was a “key component” of safety in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Mr Brown said Scotland would not be best served if a standby maritime operation centre was based in England.
“This resilience cannot be served by having the function on the south coast of England, hundreds of miles away from the crucial area of the North Sea and the oil and gas industry,” he said.
Mr Brown said it was “difficult to see” how existing cover for the North Sea could be maintained . “The safety of people and security of jobs are at stake and that is why we should take the position that these functions should be devolved,” he added.
North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said downgrading the coastguard station was “absurd”. “A second maritime operation centre in Aberdeen made a lot of sense, given that station’s key role in supporting the offshore oil and gas industry for the whole country,” he said.