The RNLI has confirmed that the St Abbs lifeboat station is to close this summer.
The move is one of four changes to lifeboat stations in the north east of England and the Borders, following an extensive review of the area to ensure that the charity continues to provide the most effective lifesaving service to the public.
Under proposals approved by the charity’s trustees, an inshore lifeboat will be added to Eyemouth later this year, and the lifeboat station at neighbouring St Abbs will be closed.
The review showed that Eyemouth lifeboat station, which is only two miles away from St Abbs, could safely and effectively cover the area with a new D class inshore lifeboat.
The D class boat that Eyemouth will receive has been operated by the RNLI since 1963. It is an inflatable lifeboat with a top speed of 25 knots and is crewed by two or three people.
The D class for Eyemouth will come from the relief fleet and will be moored in Eyemouth harbour adjacent to the floating dock.
The St Abbs lifeboat, an Atlantic 75 Dorothy and Katherine Barr II built in 2002, will continue in service for the remainder of its operational life in the RNLI’s relief lifeboat fleet.
The RNLI has a lease for the boathouse and slipway from St Abbs Harbour trustees and will hand back this property when the charity vacates the building.
George Rawlinson, RNLI Operations Director, said: “The RNLI does not take lightly any decision to close a lifeboat station and we understand that this will be disappointing for our crew, supporters and the community at St Abbs.
“The lifeboat station has served the RNLI proudly for over a hundred years, saved 226 lives and rescued many more in that time. On behalf of everyone at the RNLI I would like to thank the volunteers for their dedication and commitment to saving lives at sea.”
The RNLI continually reviews its lifesaving services around the coasts of the UK and Ireland.
In the last 20 years, the RNLI has opened eight lifeboat stations and closed three. In that time the charity has evolved and now operates beach lifeguards and flood rescue teams.
“The RNLI has evolved continually over its 191 year history to ensure that public safety is at the forefront of everything we do. These latest changes are part of our charity’s commitment to save lives at sea,” Rawlinson added.
The St Abbs station was established in 1911 following the loss of all 17 crew on board the Alfred Erlandsen four years earlier.
Five silver and one bronze medal for gallantry have been awarded to St Abbs crew members down the years.
The most recent medal service was during 2011 when helmsman Darren Crowe was awarded the bronze medal after he swam into a cave and saved an angler who had fallen from rocks and been swept into the cave.
The coastguard teams detailed to Coldingham Beach this summer will not be affected.
There are now worries about sea safety at St Abbs, which is the third largest diving attraction in Scotland.
Angus Skene, erstwhile Deputy Launching Authority, said that there had been a meeting of volunteers with the RNLI hierarchy back in February, as the charity’s review got underway. He criticised the closure heavily, saying: “This is a very dangerous move.
“The volunteers - 14 crew, The DLAs and the launchers - have been asked to commit to three weeks cover, but many don’t see why they should.
“It’s alright saying that there will be a boat at Eyemouth, but that’s another 20 minutes away, and that’s without going round the headland.
“I think that it will cost lives.”
Volunteers say should accidents happen, they would attempt rescues with their own boats.
St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve wrote on Facebook: “We believe this is a bad decision made by the bean counters within the RNLI. This is a serious drop in safety cover for anyone enjoying the St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve.”
A petition to keep the service has been launched at www.change.org/p/rnli-keep-st-abbs-lifeboat-station-open? which so far has gathered over 2,000 signatures.
Local MSP John Lamont added his name to the petition, and urged the RNLI to consider delaying the closure for another year, particularly as from April 2015 it is no longer paying VAT, a saving of around £2.5m each year.
Mr Lamont said: “Our lifeboat crews on the Berwickshire coast are made up of many brave men and women who risk their lives to save others.
“I am sure that the RNLI has not taken the decision to close St Abbs lightly and I understand the temptation to remove this service with Eyemouth station so close-by. However, it is clear the St Abbs station provides an invaluable and lifesaving service to divers and other water sports enthusiasts. The concern has been raised that closing the station will put lives at risk and put people off coming to St Abbs to dive.”
He added: “The UK Government has just given the RNLI a tax relief worth around £2.5m annually. I’d hope that these savings can be put to good use to protect frontline services. Delaying this decision for another year will allow these savings to come through and may mean RNLI is in a position to retain the station.”