Campaigners fighting for a night watchman at Macduff Harbour believe their case has been strengthened after two boats broke free overnight.
The vessels were adrift – and at risk of capsizing – for several hours over the weekend.
It is unknown what time the boats broke free as there is currently no watchman on duty at the harbour from midnight on Friday until midnight on Sunday – which fishermen have been fighting to change.
A row over the staffing arrangements has been rumbling on for months, with harbour users warning of potential damage to boats, increased chance of injury to boat users.
Local fisherman John Clark, whose boat the Reliance II lands at Macduff, said the incident was proof a night watchman is required.
One of the trawlers that broke free from its moorings was the Inverness-registered Neureus.
Mr Clark said: “The vessel broke her mooring ropes and nearly fell onto her side – the Nereus had several mooring ropes out and each would have broken at different times.
“If a watchman had been on duty he would have seen the broken ropes and done something to avoid the boat breaking free from its berth.
“It was discovered at 7am on Sunday so no one knows when it happened.
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“We need a night watchman at the weekends so issues like this can be avoided.
“Through the week Aberdeenshire Council has someone on duty from 6pm until 7am, but from midnight Friday until midnight Sunday there is no one there.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen – someone is going to lose their life or have a serious injury.”
Early on Sunday morning, the harbourmaster and another local launched the pilot boat and secured new mooring ropes to the vessels, bringing them to safety.
But Mr Clark believes the council should have a watchman in place.
He said: “I was moored in Scrabster Harbour over the weekend when a storm hit and in contrast to here, they doubled their watchmen to check over boats to make sure none broke their mooring ropes.
“This trawler could have fallen on its side and caused thousands of pounds of damage and pollution.
“The sad fact is that Aberdeenshire Council officers who have zero maritime experience feel Macduff Harbour does not need night watchmen based at the harbour over the weekends.
“They have been warned and warned about this being a breach of safety of navigation.”
Last night a council spokeswoman insisted additional checks had been carried out due to the adverse weather over the weekend.
She said: “We can confirm that two vessels broke mooring ropes at Macduff Harbour over the weekend.
“The duty officer called out the harbour master to assist him in re-securing the vessels.
“Additional checks were also made throughout the period of adverse weather.
“The adverse weather conditions were forecast and as with all our customers we would urge mooring lines are checked when high winds are forecast.”
The saga of the harbour watchmen at Macduff
Trawlermen working out of Macduff Harbour have repeatedly spoken out about their worries over the lack of night watchman.
The saga began in 2017 when it was revealed that Aberdeenshire Council planned to scrap the night watchman service with the possibility of swapping it for CCTV.
The Scottish White Fish Association in April, warned that the local authority had opened up the possibility of “unthinkable, unintended consequences” by not backing down.
Fisherman John Clark, angered at the prospect, started a petition in opposition of the plans and garnered 1,000 signatures in support of the watchman retention.
After handing this into Aberdeenshire Council chiefs, it was hoped the cutback may be stopped but discussions continued.
Following the ferocious backlash to the plans, the council made a drastic U-turn and decided in summer to keep the watchmen.
Unfortunately, one of the two council employees on the post stepped down in October from the role and more issues began.
A temporary stand-by rota was arranged to cover the vacancy in the interim period.
It took over a month before the position was advertised, and it was eventually filled in November.
However, Mr Clark believes the two members of staff need more support as there is a “disgraceful” lack of night watchman when one is off ill or on holiday.