THE village of St Abbs is to end its 104-year association with the RNLI and set up an independent lifeboat operation after the rescue organisation scaled back its presence in the area.
The RNLI will cease operating at the Berwickshire village from 9am tomorrow amd will service the region from Eyemouth instead.
St Abbs Lifeboat campaign organiser Euan Gibson accused the RNLI of making an “error of judgement” and said its decision to abandon the station at St Abbs was based on “flawed data”.
The RNLI said there was “no clear need” to maintain two stations, which are only two nautical miles apart.
Despite citing widespread support from heritage organisations, MPs, and 13,500 members of the public, Mr Gibson now intends to raise funds for a new lifeboat operation to replace the RNLI.
Mr Gibson said: “St Abbs has a 104-year association with the RNLI and we are naturally sad that this should come to an end.
“However the fact remains that we believe there is a major divergence of views between ourselves and the RNLI over the safety issues which affect this coast.
“St Abbs has been supported in its judgement by local medical services, The National Trust for Scotland (which owns the St Abbs Head Nature Reserve), The British Sub Aqua Club, The Scottish Sub Aqua Club, 46 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, 13,500 members of the public who signed the petition, not to mention the thousands of RNLI supporters who have contacted us.
“Lifeboat crews are volunteers, many being drawn from fishing communities, the merchant navy and many other walks of life. In the case of St Abbs local knowledge is of particular importance. In 2011 this was acknowledged through an RNLI Bronze Medal award of bravery for a rescue mission that would not have been possible without local knowledge.”
An increase of fishing boats and leisure activities in the area, such as scuba diving, sea kayaking, surfing and sea angling, should have prompted the RNLI to expand its presence in the area, Mr Gordon suggested.
He added: “The decision by the RNLI to replace St Abbs with a smaller and less capable boat at Eyemouth is, we believe, an error of judgement, based on flawed data.
“Detailed planning is under way to raise funds for an entirely independent lifeboat station at St Abbs.
“This will be carried out very much in the spirit of the original Jane Hay campaign to have a lifeboat at St Abbs, where it is needed most.
“Our advisers are already in discussion with the RNLI regarding the existing lifeboat house and lifesaving equipment. The lifeboat house and its fittings and fixtures belong to the St Abbs Harbour Trustees.
“In order to operate independently we will need to launch an independent appeal for funds.
“We ask that our supporters remain patient while we take advice, and discuss the best way of moving this project forward.”
In a statement, the RNLI said a D-class vessel could reach St Abbs from Eyemouth in five to ten minutes, depending on sea conditions.
George Rawlinson, RNLI operations director, added: “Closing a lifeboat station is never an easy thing to do and this decision was made only after extensive research that considered the location of existing search and rescue assets and changing patterns of sea use. The review concluded that the area should be covered from one lifeboat station, rather than two stations so close together - St Abbs and Eyemouth are only two miles apart - and the coastline can be covered by placing an inshore lifeboat alongside the all-weather lifeboat already stationed at Eyemouth.
“We are very aware of the impact of such change on local communities and we do not these decisions lightly. However, we have to be mindful of our responsibility to make best possible use of the donations on which the RNLI relies.
“I know that this is a sad day for the community of St Abbs and the lifeboat station - the lifeboat station has served the RNLI proudly for over a hundred years. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank them for their support, service and commitment to saving lives at sea.”