Fears are growing that Arbroath’s lifeboat crew crisis may cost the town its new £2 million craft.
A top-level inquiry has led to the sacking of the town’s long-serving coxswain and other forced or voluntary departures and put the current all-weather boat out of service.
Questions have now emerged over the organisation’s future in Tayside.
An investigation launched in October following a complaint over inappropriate behaviour involving a member of a visiting Dutch lifeboat crew continues but there are now concerns the lifesaving charity may pull the plug on proposals to station a state-of-the-art Shannon-class lifeboat at Arbroath.
It has also emerged the episode has hit the local service financially after the resignation of a long-standing lifeboat guild fundraiser in protest over its handling.
A drunken prank known as a three-man lift was the trigger for the official inquiry.
Lifeboat coxswain Tommy Yule, who was present when the incident happened but took no part in it, was permanently stood down as a result, along with another volunteer crew member. A third man tendered his resignation.
Some believe Mr Yule has been made a scapegoat over the incident, but RNLI bosses have emphasised the organisation’s Code of Conduct and said any breach which damages the values of the body will not be tolerated.
They have said the inquiry is ongoing but have made no further comment. A further statement is expected within the next couple of weeks.
However, the organisation has declined to give an assurance that plans for a new Shannon-class boat to be stationed at Arbroath remain on course for 2020, which was previously slated as the arrival date.
Significant infrastructure works will be part of the project to accommodate the highly manoeuvrable water jet-powered vessel.
An RNLI spokesman said: “We don’t have a firm timeline yet for a Shannon in Arbroath, or the associated shore-works.”
One local source said: “This whole situation is turning into a disaster for Arbroath. The crew has been split by it and I think people are now worried that HQ will use it as an excuse to cancel the plans for the new boat to come to Arbroath.”
Meanwhile, the shockwaves from the situation have also reverberated through the local Ladies Lifeboat Guild, which has raised massive sums for the charity down the years.
It is understood unhappiness over the handling of the incident – in particular the sacking of Mr Yule – has led to at least one long-standing and decorated volunteer fundraiser stepping back from the organisation in protest.
The Guild has declined to respond to various requests for comment and the fundraiser who has quit in protest said she had no wish to speak publicly.
Arbroath SNP councillor Alex King, who has represented the ward taking in the harbour for more than two decades said: “Having represented the ward for so long I understand the importance of the lifeboat and its location on this part of the coast.
“Consequently, I am keen to see an all-weather capability return to Arbroath as soon as possible.”
Mr King could not comment specifically on the new lifeboat situation due to his position on the development standards committee which might determine any planning application related to the project
But he added: “Having also seen the Shannon-class craft in action when it arrived in Montrose, I look forward to the commitment to locate one of these lifeboats in Arbroath coming to fruition.”
Arbroath Independent councillor David Fairweather said: “The boat not being on the water is a big enough problem, but I find the RNLI response and lack of clarity on the situation regarding a new boat disturbing, and I will certainly be writing to them to get the position clarified as soon as possible.”