On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Braer disaster maritime experts have warned a repeat could easily occur, despite lessons which were learned in the aftermath of the tanker’s grounding at Garths Ness in 1993.
As Shetland prepares to mark tomorrow’s anniversary, renewed concerns have been raised over how well equipped the isles are to prevent a second disaster from happening.
In this week’s paper The Shetland Timeshas this week delved into the archives to look back on the event which, without warning, catapulted Shetland to the top of the news agenda at home and abroad.
Meanwhile former head of Shetland Islands Council’s ports and harbours, Captain George Sutherland, has renewed criticism of the coalition government at Westminster for reducing the number of emergency tug vessels, which were introduced following Lord Donaldson’s review of shipping safety following the Braer spill.
In October 2010 it emerged Shetland risked losing its ETV cover as part of the colossal programme of spending cuts announced by the UK government.
It was thought £32.5 million could have been saved by axing four tugs around the UK coastline.
A hard-fought campaign was launched to retain the vessels – although the one Orkney-based tug which Shetland would rely on in an emergency is still short of Lord Donaldson’s original vision.
Captain Sutherland said key decision makers at government level have suffered from a “complete sea-blindness” when it comes to maritime safety.
“It is 20 years on, which is quite a long time. It was quite a major event at the time, and lots of things came out of it.
“Shetland got away pretty scatheless at the end of it all, but the sea doesn’t change and people don’t change.
“It was one of those things which happened and caused people to think about what they need to do and what should be done.
“Much to our dismay, central government has attempted to dilute the coastguard, and emergency towing vessels have been downgraded.
“It [the Donaldson inquiry] put the ETVs in place and everybody else was appreciative of that. It is not a concept that is exclusive to the UK. Now, we have found that everybody else is doing it very much better than the UK is.
“After a hard-fought battle, there is at least one ship in the northern waters, but… it’s insufficient.
“We still get wild weather, and people make mistakes.”
He added isles MP Alistair Carmichael had fought the case for the tugs “pretty manfully”, although others in the political fall-out over the coastguard cuts were left wanting.
“Decision makers in the UK have suffered from a complete sea-blindness. Apart from a few maritime communities on the peripheries, nobody in a position of influence or authority either knows nor cares.”
Eighty-five thousand tonnes of light crude spilled from the Liberian-registered tanker when she hit rocks at the South Mainland after losing power in the teeth of 90mph winds and 60 foot waves.
Thousands of birds were killed as Shetland found itself on the brink of an environmental catastrophe. Fears rose over the future of crofting, fishing and salmon farming and the smell, and taste, of oil lingered long in the air.
Full story and special feature in this week’s Shetland Times.