The government is to extend the contract for the Anglian Sovereign for a month while details of a deal with the oil industry for emergency tug cover around Shetland and Orkney are hammered out, it was confirmed today.
Ministers had been expected to announce arrangements today for deployment of a standby vessel, most likely in the Schiehallion oil field 100 miles west of Shetland, to take over from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency vessel.
But Treasury civil servants and industry representatives are still wrangling over insurance and indemnity, so an extension to the existing contract has been agreed.
A spokesman for the Scotland Office said: “Funding will be made available towards the ETV [emergency towing vessel] in Lerwick for a further month while commercial arrangements continue to be discussed.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said: “Despite some of the more extravagant comment in the week, today’s announcement confirms that the government remains committed to providing cover for the waters around the Shetland Isles.
“This time will allow the details of that to be worked out and tested so that the community can have confidence in the provision.”
It is believed that when the deal is finalised the Grampian Frontier or a similar vessel will be made instantly available to deal with any incident in waters around the islands. She would have a maximum 12-hour sailing time to the furthest-flung emergency. The industry is believed to be footing the bill for the vessel and crew.
Councillors, led by convener Sandy Cluness, had criticised the government for failing to provide a replacement for the Anglian Sovereign during discussions at this week’s Full Council meeting. They had also voiced alarm at the prospect of a gap in emergency tug cover.
SIC head of ports and harbours Roger Moore told councillors a “table top exercise” would be conducted next month to test the viability of using the Grampian Frontier, which is currently chartered by the oil industry to work in the Foinaven and Schiehallion fields.