MSP writes to UK Government after coastguard concerns raised over Loch Fyne tragedy

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By a Newsnet reporter

An MSP has written to the UK Government Transport Secretary, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, raising questions around the coastguard response to the recent tragedy at Loch Fyne that saw a young kayaker die.

Stuart McMillan’s letter follows claims that a distress call to the Maritime Rescue Centre in Belfast resulted in a twenty five minute delay before the local coastguard in Tarbert was alerted and a further hour before a lifeboat picked the man up.

The young victim had capsized on Saturday afternoon, but both he and his companion had managed to make their way to shore where they spent the evening camping with a friend.  However after he became ill the following Sunday morning, a 999 call was made at 05:54 – the young Glasgow man subsequently died in hospital at Lochgilphead.

Previously this area would have been covered by Clyde Coastguard in Greenock, but with operational services having been passed over to Belfast Coastguard Station last week, this was one of the first tests of the new set-up.

Despite a long and hard-fought campaign, the Clyde Coastguard has been the victim of UK Government cuts to the Coastguard services.

Concerns have been raised about whether Belfast was adequately equipped to deal with this tragedy, and whether more could have been done if Clyde Coastguard had remained open.

Mr McMillan said:

“First and foremost I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased.  This was a tragic accident and the family must remain in our thoughts throughout.

“This was an early test of the readiness and suitability of the Belfast station taking over the duties of Clyde Coastguard.  I have read various reports and question whether this incident could have been better dealt with if Clyde had remained open.

“I have said from the start of the Save the MRCC Clyde campaign that safety must come first – not cost.  There is a great wealth of local knowledge that will be lost by the closure of Clyde Coastguard.  This could impact greatly upon response times and ultimately end up with tragic consequences.

“I have written to the Patrick McLoughlin MP, the UK Transport Secretary as I believe it was important to highlight this most recent incident to the UK Government and raise questions with him.  The highest standards from the workforce in Belfast will have remained, of that I am sure.  They have however been placed in an invidious position as a result of the decisions taken by the UK Government.

“I believe the UK Government has made a massive error in closing Clyde Coastguard and one that could have long lasting consequences for water users in the west of Scotland.  I will continue to campaign for safety and security in our waters and I hope the UK Government come to a common sense conclusion and u-turn on this decision, just as they have done on other matters.”

Speaking to the Times newspaper, Kenny MacNab, skipper of The Frigate Bird and former chairman of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, said that he was aghast at the closure of the local service.

“The big problem they will have in Belfast, is the local knowledge and the Gaelic names.

He added: “The people who worked in Clyde coastguard had a good knowledge of all the names and different places on the West Coast.  The people in Belfast wouldn’t have a clue.”

Gary Boyle, 26, skipper of the Kathleen said: “We need to have people from this area, who know this area,”