STONEHAVEN’S lifeboat rescue and training charity, the Maritime Rescue Insititute, is to close.
The lifeboats had not been operational since storms caused extensive damage to the harbour-side building and boats in December, and CEO Ann Laing told the Leader this week that the last few years had also been difficult financially owing to the recession.
She said: “It was an extremely difficult decision but I know in my heart that it is the right one.
“It had been a tough couple of years funding-wise, but we thought recently that we had turned a corner and were doing fine. However the elements really put us backwards when the storm hit in December and it’s been a bit of an uphill struggle since then.
“This has been my life since 1987. I can’t imagine life without coming down to Stonehaven harbour every morning.
“We have had a lot of support, and the likes of Aberdeenshire Council have tried really hard to support us and I really appreciate that.”
Aberdeenshire Council leader, Councillor Jim Gifford, said: “As one of the sponsors of the Maritime Rescue Institute, it is with great sadness that we learn of its closure.
“The MRI charity has provided a vital service which has undoubtedly saved lives, and done great work for the community of Stonehaven and the wider Aberdeenshire area for many years.
“Aberdeenshire Council is unable to provide financial support to prevent closure of the charity, but will give any advice and support that it can.
‘‘I urge the business community of Aberdeen City and Shire to consider the plight of this important charity and see if there is any private sector support that can be offered.”
MSP for Angus North and Mearns, Nigel Don, commented: ““This service had, over 30 years’ experience, offering waterborne rescue, training and consultancy.
“They reckon to have saved over 1200 lives, trained more than 80 international lifeboat crew per year and reached over 10,000 children by educating them in water safety. Clearly they will be missed … we owe them a debt of gratitude.
“The recent storms hit them particularly hard, and I understand they had real difficulties replacing their equipment which was badly damaged. I deeply regret the closure of this dedicated and valued organisation.”
Stonehaven and Lower Deeside Councillor Peter Bellarby said: “I am really sorry to hear that MRI is to close.
‘‘It has been a huge asset to Stonehaven. We have a strong maritime tradition and MRI has contributed greatly in providing an inshore rescue service and training to teams from across the world. Visitors and tourism are very important to Stonehaven so we need to promote the town and encourage tourists to come, making up for the loss of MRI. We also need to ensure that there is an inshore rescue service in the area round Stonehaven.”
Councillor Raymond Christie added: “The MRI have done a tremendous amount of work in Stonehaven and up and down the East Coast. From what I have heard their training programme is second to none.’’
Councillor Graeme Clarkdescribed the news as ‘‘bad for Stonehaven and the surrounding area,’’ adding: ‘‘MRI has been a welcome feature in the town, providing rescue cover in addition to vital sea-going training. Being a charity it has had to rely on sponsorship and public donations, but was badly affected by the December storm, yet could still help when floods hit the town one week later, repeating their efforts in the 2009 flood.
I would like to thank all the people involved in MRI, the closure will be a sad loss to Kincardine and Mearns.”
Councillor Alson Evison concluded: “This is devastating news for Stonehaven and for people living in our coastal area.
‘‘MRI did such vital work during the recent flooding and many people depended on them. The general safety work they do has been so important to our developing communities. I hope that a solution can be found to the current crisis.”
The charity is expected to officially close at the end of March.