Scotland’s environment minister is pushing for an announcement on the future of emergency tug provision as the current arrangement comes to an end.
Richard Lochhead has written to the UK government, which is due to announce a deal with the oil and gas industry for year-round cover shortly, asking for proposals to be brought forward urgently.
It is understood that former SIC ports and harbours chief Captain George Sutherland is assessing the new set-up.
One of the two vessels operated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in Scottish waters was withdrawn last weekend while the contract for Northern Isles-based Anglian Sovereign expires next week.
Mr Lochhead, who is due to visit Shetland tomorrow, said it was “unacceptable” that the Minches-based tug had been taken out of service with no alternative cover being put in place.
Mr Lochhead said: “The Scottish government has had regular and positive engagement with the Scotland Office to work towards a long-term solution for emergency towing vessel (ETV) cover in our waters.
“However, I was surprised and disappointed that the ETV based at Stornoway has been withdrawn without any alternative arrangements in place.
“Within 48 hours of the Stornoway tug’s removal, the grounding of the MV Flinterspirit in the Minch was a clear reminder of the risks faced by shipping in this complex and environmentally-sensitive stretch of water.
“It’s completely unacceptable to leave this area without ETV cover.”
He added: “The UK government has to accept the near universal view that there is no viable commercial alternative to emergency tug cover for the Western Isles – provision must be reinstated as soon as possible.
“Similarly, while we are pleased at the positive engagement with Oil and Gas UK towards a solution for the Northern Isles, it’s imperative any transition to a new arrangement does not involve any gap in ETV provision.
“We will continue to push the UK government to fulfil its responsibilities in this matter.
“The safety of human life and the marine environment must come before budgetary constraints.”