THEY were the guardians of the sea for more than a century – co-ordinating rescues that saved countless lives.
But the last chapter in the history of Forth Coastguard drew to a close yesterday with the poignant final transmission: “Wishing you fair winds and a safe passage.”
As of 1.30pm, coastguards in Aberdeen were charged with responding to distress calls along the Firth of Forth, with the axing of the Fife station part of government plans to centralise operations.
Throughout its lifetime, the coastguard’s watchkeepers have come to the aid of hapless kayakers, distressed whales and a slew of ill-fated visits to Cramond Island.
Sue Todd, coastal safety manager for the East of Scotland, said the closure of the historic station after 109 years was the “end of an era”. She said: “The staff broadcast for the final time with a personal message, to say thanks for all the support over the years.
“The mood here was relatively positive, but it’s sad that we’ve been here for such a long time providing a service to marine and coastal users.”
Staff affected by the closures – which cover 344 miles of coastline from four bases in Montrose, St Andrews, Granton and Eyemouth – have taken voluntary redundancy or accepted transfers to other stations.
Mike Scott Hayward, who worked in the station control room for 11 years, said one of his biggest fears was the impact the closure would have on recreational coast users.
“There is very little time to rescue people caught by the tides,” he said. “People fishing on the rocks or walking along coastal paths are hard to track down without local knowledge of the coastline.”
Scotland will now be served by operations at four stations – Aberdeen, Shetland, Stornoway and Belfast. Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, who campaigned to keep Forth Coastguard Station open, said: “This was the wrong decision. It’s important to keep cover in as many places as is feasible and it will be a great pity to lose local expertise.”
Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “Safety is our top priority and I am confident that HM Coastguard will maintain the same high quality search-and-rescue service as they always have done.
“By 2015, HM Coastguard’s new network will be operational with a national Maritime Operations Centre at its core.
“We will deliver a more resilient search-and-rescue coordination service for the UK, taking full advantage of modern communications technology and enabling any centre to support others across the network during busy periods, thus sharing the workload.”