Tug campaign grows

by Hans | October 27th, 2010

THE CAMPAIGN to retain the emergency tug in the northern isles is growing, with Shetland MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott writing to UK shipping minister Mike Penning. Shetland Islands Council will follow on Wednesday when it plans to write to both Mr Penning and energy secretary Chris Huhne calling for the emergency towing vessel (ETV) to remain.

The Highlands and Islands Convention meeting in Kirkwall on Monday also voted unanimously to support the campaign to retain the tugs. Mr Scott said he was giving isles MP Alistair Carmichael his full backing as he tries to persuade government treasury and transport ministers of the imperative to continue the service at least in Fair Isle waters.

Their arguments were strengthened last week when the western isles-based tug Anglian Prince towed free the nuclear submarine HMS Astute after it grounded on a sand bank off the isle of Skye. Last week the government announced as part of its comprehensive spending review that it intended to save £32.5 million over four years by not renewing the contract for the UK’s four tugs, arguing that they were barely used.

The Scottish tugs had only assisted one vessel each in each of the past two years until last week’s incident off Skye.

In his letter to the minister, Mr Scott writes: “The removal of the tug, with the resulting increase in the risk to Shetland’s coastline and to the lives of seafarers, may save money in the short term but there is the real risk that it will end up costing us far more than it saves. “I therefore urge you to reconsider this ill considered proposal and to retain the emergency tug.”

Commenting, he said, “Just as Shetland was united after the Braer in the campaign to get a tug stationed here, we are united again in this battle to keep the tug. “Claims that commercial salvage tugs will step in might apply in the Dover Straights, but they most certainly don’t apply here. “Alistair Carmichael has my full backing as he pursues this issue with ministers in London. I also want the UK government to recognise that Sullom Voe brings in billions of pounds of revenue. So the modest but essential investment in a safety tug is a small price for the UK government to pay in return.” On Wednesday the matter will be raised as an emergency item at a full meeting of the SIC where a detailed report by harbourmaster Roger Moore spells out the value of the tug to Shetland and the UK as a whole. Captain Moore points out that the tugs were recommended in the Donaldson report “Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas” that followed his inquiry into the 1993 Braer oil spill off Shetland.

However it took until 1999 for the tugs to be deployed, after criticism from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch into the grounding of the Green Lily off Bressay in November 1997, and problems assisting the huge chemical tanker Multitank Ascania in early 1999 in the Pentland Firth. Capt Moore also argues that the cost of the tugs is small compared to the saving they make in pollution prevention, bearing in mind the devastating effect an incident would have on both the economy and the environment.

He points to cost benefit studies that show the overall value of the Fair Isle based tug was almost £15 million over 10 years. He also quotes the energy minister who, referring to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said: “The Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance.” Last week the shipping minister said that commercial towage firms could step in to assist a vessel in difficulty, but Capt Moore says that such support is less available in northern waters.

He also says that the four tugs based at Sullom Voe could only provide “first aid” to a large ship in trouble while it waited for a more powerful tug to arrive. “The removal of the ETV from Shetland waters will much reduce the capacity to successfully salve a vessel in poor weather and will be largely reliant on the hope that a suitable sea going tug is in the area,” he says. He further points out that the spending review has also threatened to remove the offshore fire fighting service, the Maritime Incident Response Group, also funded through the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

Source : Shetland Marine News 

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