Oil standby vessel may be deployed for emergency cover

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The Grampian Frontier.

Oil industry and government representatives are looking at making standby safety vessel Grampian Frontier available to replace the government-funded emergency tug cover around Shetland and Orkney, it emerged today.

SIC head of ports and harbours Roger Moore said it had been suggested that the vessel, or another similar ship, could be stationed in or around the Schiehallion oil field. That would allow it to respond to any incident in waters around the Northern Isles within 12 hours.

Last week a government source told The Shetland Times cover would be provided for 365 days a year, but not necessarily by one vessel, to replace the Anglian Sovereign, the emergency towing vessel operated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency which will go out of service on Saturday as part of the government’s cuts. Its original contract had been extended by six months to allow alternative arrangements to be made.

Mr Moore said the Treasury and Oil & Gas UK were finalising a draft agreement, which he said would hopefully be completed by next week. A “table top exercise” to test the viability of using the Grampian Frontier, currently chartered by the oil industry to work at the Foinaven and Schiehallion fields just over 100 miles west of Shetland, is pencilled in for early April.

Councillors continue to vent their anger at the UK coalition government for “abdicating its responsibility” to safeguard the waters surrounding the islands.

Convener Sandy Cluness said he felt Shetland was being “badly let down” by the coalition, whose attitude “flies in the face” of what Lord Donaldson said after the Braer.

After a short debate at Wednesday morning’s Full Council meeting, it was agreed that the SIC leadership will write to UK ministers demanding that the existing tug cover contract remains in place until a suitable alternative is put in place.

Councillors are furious at the prospect of a break in service until a new contract can be agreed. Mr Moore said it was not clear what would happen in the short term, and that a possible delay “may be days, or it may be months”.

Other councillors lined up to castigate the government. Betty Fullerton said it had “absolute responsibility for the environment in these waters”, while Gary Robinson accused the government of “shirking” its responsibilities. Caroline Miller was “incredulous” at the UK government’s approach given the income it derives from the oil and gas industry.

Mr Robinson also fears a wealth of experience amassed by crew on the Anglian Sovereign will now be lost – knowledge that would be “absolutely critical in an emergency such as the Braer“.

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