The UK government will continue to fund an emergency towing vessel to cover waters around Shetland and beyond until 2015.
It is seeking tenders which will see a tug operate around Scotland’s coastline as required for the remainder of the coalition’s spending review.
It had been thought that the oil and gas industry would form the backbone of any new arrangement for tug cover.
The government insists talks with the energy sector are continuing, but any deal will be “supplementary” to the other arrangements.
It’s not known where the new tug, once it is sourced, will be based.
It will be tasked by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) to undertake specific escort duties should they consider it necessary in a given situation – rather than the passive escort of shipping.
The news emerged in a written ministerial statement laid in Parliament this morning.
A statement from the Scotland Office said it brought a search for a solution to the long-running issue of providing tug cover to a successful end.
The government announced in October 2010 that the MCA contract for four ETVs around the UK’s coastline would be axed. The move to ditch the vessels from September last year was made as part of its massive programme of spending cuts.
But several month by month contracts were announced following fears maritime safety would be compromised and lives put at risk if no long-term provision was made. The short-term cover will continue until final arrangements are put in place.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, a government whip, welcomed the announcement.
“The need to retain tug cover for the Northern Isles was the clearly-expressed view of the local community.
“I’ve argued that case relentlessly in government and I’m delighted that today’s announcement confirms that we shall have that.
“We will continue to conclude the so far successful negotiations with the oil industry about cover being provided from their assets in local waters but that will be supplementary to this.”
The announcement raises the question of what will happen after 2015 when the spending review comes to an end. But Mr Carmichael insisted having the tug cover would make the argument for its long-term retention much simpler.
“It’s a lot easier to make the case for something that is in the budget than it is if you have to put it in,” he said.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said: “As a government, we have listened closely to all the views which have been put forward in this process.
“We have worked hard within the UK government with the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to find the best solution to maintain emergency towing vessel cover within the financial constraints we face.
“Today’s announcement shows we have found a practical and sensible way forward with a replacement which balances risk and efficiency. I am grateful the local authorities, harbour masters and others who have taken part in the process leading up to today’s announcement.
“The oil industry has also been active in helping explore the potential of a commercial call-out arrangement using their vessels and discussions are still underway.”