Late last night, the head of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, was interviewed on Newsnight Scotland. He admitted that the current round of restructuring was founded on the issue of money, and if there had not been a call for cuts to be made, the proposal for closing the coastguard station at Stornoway would not have been made.
Mr Massey addressed the issue of local knowledge, saying that this should be pooled by using Google Earth. As I understand it, personnel at the Stornoway CG station know all the names of features along the coast and in the water. Of course this could be put onto Google Earth, but anyone doing a search on Google knows that it comes up with endless numbers of results. A fisherman, radioing into the CG station saying he's aground on the Chicken does not expect to have to explain that he is on the Chicken Rock, off Bayble in Point. And worse than that, there may be a Gaelic name - and will the Aberdeen coastguards be Gaelic speakers?
The point was also raised by Sir Alan that a year ago yesterday, the 180 coastguards on watch across the UK had very little to do. Yet, six months later, they were very busy indeed. This was also used in justification for making cuts. However, I am not aware that emergencies and accidents are in the habit of being scheduled. The Braer disaster took place in the month of January (1993), and we are presently experiencing the windiest week of the winter so far. Last night, the fishing boat Jack Abry II went aground on the Isle of Rum - and was that scheduled? I don't think so.
Hearing Mr Massey speak on the BBC last night, I have to draw the conclusion that he is not aware of the reality of the Coastguard service on the ground, in spite of being a mariner himself. His opinions on Google Earth match the same description.
I may be inaccurate in my rehash of the interview, which can be seen until February 7th on this link