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The annual report of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has highlighted essential work by the coastguard control centre in Stornoway, coastguard rescue teams in the islands and the Bristows-operated coastguard search and rescue helicopter service.

The MCA annual report and accounts for 2020-21 was ordered for publication by the House of Commons yesterday (Monday 22 November) after being produced by the Department of Transport and the MCA.

As well as detailing statistics on ships registered and inspected, the report outlines the exceptional work which has been undertaken in mutual aid during the Coronavirus epidemic and in search and rescue.

MCA chief executive Brian Johnson, in his introduction to the report, said: “Despite the challenges of coronavirus, we have remained ready and prepared to respond to emergencies at sea, on the coast and inland.

“In the last year, our coastguard search and rescue service answered the call swiftly and effectively to over 33,000 incidents, sometimes in the most difficult of conditions.

“Our 3,500 volunteers in the community-based Coastguard Rescue Service have responded magnificently to emergencies and in support of other emergency services through mutual aid arrangements as part of the Government’s response to the pandemic.”

Among specific examples of mutual aid during the pandemic, the report singles out additional support provided to the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Grampian to move coronavirus patients from the Isle of Barra during an outbreak on the islands.

In terms of maritime incident management, the report highlights incident response following the grounding of the MV KAAMI off the Shiant Isles on 23 March 2020, just as lockdown was being announced.

As well as seeing coastguard planes in operation to detect pollution on the water, the entire incident was co-ordinated under the oversight of the Secretary of State’s representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SOSREP) and was successfully concluded in May 2020.

The report said: “The operation to remove onboard pollutants and cargo from the grounded vessel and to safely tow her to a dry dock and dismantle for recycling took 43 days. Twenty-five Salvage Control Unit meetings were held in response to the incident.

“The SOSREP and other stakeholders would usually mobilise close to the scene. However, due to coronavirus restrictions, the entire incident was overseen remotely.”

Over the report period and across the UK, the MCA responded to over 33,000 incidents, dealing with distress and 999 calls. Search and rescue helicopters were tasked 1,975 times from 10 bases, including that at Stornoway.

The full publication is available at www.gov.uk/official-documents

Pictures show Stornoway Coastguard team members working with Bristows, Scottish Ambulance and Fire Scotland on search and rescue and on vaccination clinics during 2020/21 (HM Coastguard Western Isles Skye and Lochaber).