Maritime Safety Week is an ideal time for the UK Government to finally act on the crew shortage crisis facing the West Coast fishing fleet which is a key safety issue, said Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

At a roundtable parliamentary meeting with Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani MP last week (July 3), Mr MacNeil said ensuring access to a skilled crew was paramount to safety at sea and urged the UK Government to allow skippers to recruit crew from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) as they did in the past.

Currently many boats are tied up due to a lack of suitable crew meaning loss of earnings and a knock on effect on local economies.

Mr MacNeil said: “The additional funding and safety equipment for the fishing industry announced by the Minister at the meeting is very welcome and will help to save lives at sea.

“Having access to trained skilled crew is also paramount to the safe operations of any vessel.

“Crew shortages have meant remaining crews may have to work longer hours to keep vessels profitable. Preventing skippers from accessing non EU Nationals creates a disadvantage compared to more offshore vessels.

“The UK Government can do something about this quite easily as they have done for the horticulture sector by allowing non-EEA labour as part of a pilot scheme.

“There is a united voice on this from the Scottish Government, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association and it is about time that the UK Government listened.

“Maritime Safety Week would be the ideal time to finally do something about the crew shortage crisis.”

The Maritime Minister announced an additional £700,000 for training and safety equipment on fishing boats.

This is on top of an existing £250,000 pot, which is matched by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The Department for Transport will also work with Seafish Industry Authority to deliver more than 500 personal floatation devices fitted with locator beacons, worth a total of £250,000, to help find people who have fallen overboard – the most common reason for fatalities at sea.

Last year there were six fishing fatalities, either through people falling overboard or due to issues affecting the stability of vessels.