A deal with the oil and gas industry to provide emergency tug cover 365 days a year in the waters around the Northern Isles is to be announced shortly.
It is understood former head of the SIC’s ports and harbours department Captain George Sutherland is examining final proposals made by a group of companies which operate in the North Sea and to the west of Shetland.
Discussions have been going on with the industry for more than six months, since the Scotland Office moved in to fund an extension to the contract for the two Maritime and Coastguard Agency tugs Anglian Sovereign and Anglian Princess.
The contract for the Anglian Princess, based in the Minches, expired on Saturday and that for the Anglian Sovereign will run out on 31st March after it was extended for just over a week on Wednesday. Talk of the vessel being “saved” was dismissed by a government source today.
The Anglian Sovereign was summoned to the Western Isles this week after the 112-metre cargo vessel Flinterspirit ran aground off North Uist on Monday night.
An announcement on the new arrangement, which will not comprise a single tug but revolve around those oil industry vessels available at any given time, may come as early as next week.
It is not known if the UK government has agreed to put forward any funding but it is significant that the oil and gas industry gave a very positive response to the budget this week which promised tax concessions for deep sea fields to the west of Shetland and new arrangements for the decommissioning of old platforms.
The emergency towing vessels, as they were known, were introduced after the Braer oil spill, had been due for the axe last year as part of the coalition government’s cost-cutting.
But protests led to the tugs being retained while a more cost-effective long-term arrangement was sought.
Speaking at the outset of Wednesday’s Full Council meeting, soon-to-depart SIC convener Sandy Cluness described the government’s withdrawal of the tugs as “disgraceful”. “It’s time we told them where the responsibility lies,” he said.
KIMO UK voiced its disappointment with the UK government after the Anglian Princess was withdrawn but welcomed the retention of the Anglian Sovereign until the end of the month.