Lifeboat fight continues

St Abbs inshore lifeboat RNLI
St Abbs inshore lifeboat RNLI

The RNLI has again declined to rethink the decision to close St Abbs lifeboat station, citing concerns over staffing levels and development costs.

RNLI chairman Charles Hunter-Pease addressed some community concerns in a letter to local MSP Paul Wheelhouse and new MP Calum Kerr.

In his letter, Mr Hunter-Pease wrote: “The unanimous decision by the charity’s Trustees to close the lifeboat station was a difficult one and not taken lightly.”

The letter went on to acknowledge for the first time in correspondence that the cost to the RNLI of maintaining a station was a “consideration”. It was also revealed that the charity had concerns over crew levels in the future.

Mr Hunter-Pease wrote: “While cost is not the driving factor in such decisions, the RNLI has a responsibility to its supporters to use their donations appropriately, so it has to be a consideration.”

He went on to estimate the cost of replacing the current B class Atlantic 75 with a larger Atlantic 85 in 2016, and associated alterations to the lifeboat station, would cost more than £1.5 million.

“In Coast Reviews we also consider many other factors including the future sustainability of stations. In this case we considered that Eyemouth, with a greater population, would be able to support a larger crew over the long term; Eyemouth already has a pool of 20 crew - enough to comfortably support two lifeboats.”

This idea was refuted by volunteer crew members at Friday’s community meeting, where they pointed out that St Abbs has never had difficulty in raising a crew.

Indeed, Angus Skene said that the crew had reluctantly not been accepting applications to join the crew from a few local young people, “due to all this hanging over us”.

Those assembled in the Ebba Centre heard station master Alistair Crowe reveal that in a private meeting with an RNLI representative, he was told the charity “would not budge” from its decision.

“I went along to hear what they had to say and was told it was all over and the decision to close was final and no amount of campaigning or names on a petition would pursued them otherwise.”

Mr Crowe added that the representative - a sea captain with 20 years RNLI experience - had been shocked to find that the date set for closing the St Abbs station was in the summer, the busiest time of the year.

“He just couldn’t believe that,” the meeting heard. “If you’re going to close us down, why not wait until the Christmas period when it’s quiet?”

Local MSP Paul Wheelhouse tweeted after the meeting: “Strong & resolute reaction at St Abbs public meeting tonight re response from @RNLI re shocking decision to axe @stabbslifeboat #FightGoesOn”

The meeting saw the launch of a campaign, Save St Abbs Lifeboat, and there are plans for a dedicated website, as well as banners and flags in an around the village.

Over 3,600 people have already signed the online petition to keep the lifeboat at www.change.org/p/rnli-keep-st-abbs-lifeboat-station-open, with many more hard copies also filled in.