Almost half the safety equipment along a two-mile stretch at the River Dee in Aberdeen has been vandalised, the Evening Express can reveal today.
We examined the life rings after schoolgirls had to be rescued from the water when their boat capsized near Victoria Bridge at the weekend.
It later emerged the rope on the life-saving gear had been cut, hampering the rescue.
Since 2017, all life rings owned by Aberdeen City Council – including those at Aberdeen Beach, Rivers Dee and Don, and Seaton Park – should be inspected on a twice-weekly basis.
Our reporters checked each lifebelt on both sides of the river, from Victoria Bridge to the Bridge of Dee at Garthdee, and discovered 16 of the 33 showed some sign of vandalism.
This included a missing throw-line, graffiti and broken lock ties, which are the plastic bindings meant to keep the equipment locked away in their red casings and to let the public know it is safe to use in an emergency.
Click the liferings on the map below to find out which ones we found damaged
In some cases, the throw-line appears frayed, as though an attempt had been made to cut it, and in another a cut rope had been tied back together.
Council officers inspect the lifebelts twice weekly, making sure signs are visible for members of the public to call if they notice any damage on the devices.
The checks include making sure the throw-line is between 15-20 metres long and that the ring is still buoyant.
Figures from Aberdeen City Council show there is an ongoing issue with damaged lifebelts and ropes. City-wide, since 2017, there were 19 lifebelts and 132 ropes replaced. This year, four lifebelts and 11 ropes were installed or swapped out for new ones.
When told of our findings, Ian Yuill, councillor for Airyhall, Broomhill and Garthdee, said: “This is alarming and hugely worrying. The life safety rings are there to save lives.
“Just how stupid or nasty does someone have to be to deliberately put lives at risk by vandalising a life safety ring?”
Yvonne Allan, councillor for Torry and Ferryhill, said: “I am really concerned about what they are doing as it may be their lives that need saving next, or even their family members.”
Councillor Catriona Mackenzie, councillor for Torry and Ferryhill, said: “Vandalism of this equipment is beyond stupid and irresponsible, but if that has been an ongoing issue, then the city council should have identified it and worked with partner organisations to prevent further spates.
“We cannot get complacent, especially when over the weekend, in an emergency situation, one of these lifebelts could not be used because of damage that hadn’t been repaired. The Evening Express’ work to investigate the extent of this problem is commendable.”
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A council spokeswoman said: “The lifebelts along the rivers and beach are inspected twice a week for any faults which do not adhere to regulations, and action is taken to remedy any faults found. The inspections along the beach front are increased to every day during the summer, due to the increased numbers of people using the area.
“However, we cannot be everywhere at all times, and we ask people if they see anything amiss to report any faults to us on 03000 200 29, and if they witness any vandalism to phone the police.
“We strongly advise people not to tamper with the boxes and lifebelts, as the equipment can literally save lives at a time when every second counts, if someone is in our fast-flowing rivers or the sea which also has strong undercurrents.
“The inspection we carried out to these lifebelts last week did not show faults so we thank the Evening Express for bringing it to our attention and this led to additional inspections which found at least 16 security seals had been damaged.
“We will be reporting the damage to the police.”