A CAMPAIGNING lifeboat crew at St Abbs in the Scottish Borders have challenged the RNLI’s claims that it would cost £1.5 million to keep the station open and insisted it would require only the removal of a couple of bolts.

Charity chiefs told The National the decision to close the historic lifeboat station in the UK’s largest diving area was not about money and that it was being closed for “operational reasons”, yet in a fresh statement said it would be too costly to keep it open.

St Abbs Lifeboat Station is to be closed after the summer, with cover to be provided from nearby Eyemouth. However, the crew and locals in the fishing village have vowed to campaign until the “bitter end” against the move, which they fear would put lives at risk.

The Keep St Abbs Lifeboat Station Open campaign now has more than 4,000 names on a petition, includes that of keen diver and TV broadcaster, explorer and marine biologist Monty Halls.

Earlier this month The National revealed that Scotland’s largest conservation charity had joined the battle to save St Abbs after writing a strong letter to the RNLI expressing “deep concern” over the closure and fears of “potentially tragic outcomes” at a popular nature reserve it owns nearby.

Simon Skinner, chief executive of the The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), wrote to RNLI chief Paul Bossier. However, the RNLI refuse to back down, insisting its decision was final.

An RNLI spokesman said: “While cost is not the driving factor in these decisions, the RNLI has a responsibility to its supporters to use their donations appropriately, so it is a consideration.

“The current B class Atlantic 75 Dorothy and Katherine Barr II lifeboat was placed on service in 2002 and would be due to be upgraded to a bigger Atlantic 85 in 2016.

“This would require significant future investment in building works and alterations to the lifeboat station in order to house the lifeboat and provide appropriate facilities for the crew. The predicted costs would be more than £1.5m.”

However, the crew refute these claims and say that since The National highlighted the rescue of a woman diver earlier this month, the RNLI had become more focused on costs.

The crew said that the Barr Family Trust, which has donated to the RNLI for years, has already agreed to fund the new boat after paying for the previous two.

Crew committee member Euan Gibson said: “Ever since we have disproved – and continue to disprove, with the timely rescue of a diver as reported by The National – the RNLI’s ‘operational reasons’ for the proposed closure of St Abbs Station, we have noticed there is more and more reference to the costs involved in taking our new Atlantic 85 lifeboat, due next year.

“Unaccountably, RNLI have come up with a figure if £1.5m for ‘significant investment in building works and alterations to the lifeboat station in order to house the lifeboat and to provide appropriate facilities’.

“The 85 is 200mm wider than our current Atlantic 75 but the RNLI themselves made the boat cradle adjustable a number of years ago in anticipation of this, so all it would require would be a few bolts to be removed, the cradle adjusted to the outer location, and the bolts tightened. That’s it, as the boathouse itself is also large enough already to house the Atlantic 85.

“The RNLI would also not have to fund the new boat as we had been informed by the Barr Family Trust, who generously supplied our last two boats, that the replacement lifeboat was to be paid for by them also.

“I’m sure you can imagine the response locally when the figure of £1.5 million was announced.”

Gibson said that while the station remains open they will continue to fight the decision.

He stressed that the unique nature of the coastline to the north of St Abbs would make it more difficult for an Eyemouth boat to reach emergencies, adding: “In case of an emergency, time – seconds – is crucial."