20 years since Braer experts fear disaster will be repeated

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.

Click for full image

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Colin Hunter

    • January 4th, 2013 11:13

    It was utterly inexcusable that the Transport Minister, Mike Penning axed the ETVs in the first place. Not only is £32m for four tugs for FOUR years extremely good value, it was an utter and absolute drop in the ocean compared to what Westminster have ripped out of the North Sea and even the Crown Estate over the years. Not to mention Shetlands £40m housing debt that successive Westminster Governments have promised to repay…….but heve all reneged!
    We are over 800 miles from London and the Westminster Government still seem unable to recognise that anything North of Watford actually exists. It is high time that provision of Coastguard and ETV services was devolved to Edinburgh, or, better yet, if Scotland as a whole was completely clear of interference from these clowns!
    One other piece of ridiculous, but unrelated, legislation is that if, for instance, there is a foot and mouth breakout in Kent, people in Shetland, over 800 miles away, are prohibited from moving stock, whereas people in France, about 30 miles away, are not! This is because “It’s the same country”! High time it wasn’t!

  • Sandy McMillan

    • January 4th, 2013 16:08

    Well said Colin, it is high time that Scotland or even Shetland looked after its own affaires, Westminster with its bunch of gibbering nuts dont have a clue what the need of Scotland or Shetland are, the sooner the better we are clear of Cameron and Clegg.

  • Ali Inkster

    • January 4th, 2013 17:18

    The restriction on movement of animals was imposed by Europe so an outbreak of foot and mouth in Stranraer would have the same effect because the ego that is Alex Salmond would seek to keep Scotland in Europe there for taking instruction from Strasbourg when it happens again. Now where is the sense in that.

  • ian tinkler

    • January 6th, 2013 14:26

    Westminster, Edinburgh all distant from Shetland and both have political agendas tailored to pander to the majority vote of their own electorate. That is democracy, the will of the majority. A distant relatively tiny population like Shetland will never be well served under such a system. That is why the well tried and highly successful partial independence of Crown Dependency has to be the way forward. Secure as part of the UK but with complete control of our territorial waters. Fishing, conservation, livestock quarantine, slaughter and livestock movement records under our own rules and control. The right to keep passing tankers outside our territorial waters and control of our own coastguard and marine management. I have plenty of grips with our domestic politicians and little control over their frequent idiocy, but at least I can make my views known to them and Shetlander, as can anyone on these islands. As for both the Westminster and Edinburgh parliaments, the entire population of Shetland will count for far less than that of a small mainland UK town. That not does not exactly politically, carry much influence, but the total control of our own ports, sea lanes, natural resources and territorial waters, that would certainly carry much influence and be greatly to the better for the people of Shetland

  • Colin Hunter

    • January 6th, 2013 19:09

    What are you going to call this “Utopia” Ian? Cloud Cuckoo land?

  • ian tinkler

    • January 7th, 2013 9:33

    How about “The Shetland Isles”, Colin, Rather on the same lines as “The Isle of Man”. Not as grand as “Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey”. The latter two are Crown Dependences which work rather well. I would reserve “Crown Cuckoo Land” or “Independent Never Never Land” for Salmond’s vision of Scotland. Independent under the Bank of England, nearly in NATO, nearly in Europe, maybe, a nearly Socialist Green paradise, well it could have been until it had its wild places turned into extensive power stations. Maybe readers could give a few ideas for the names of the future? Salmond’s Folly Land, Windfarm Land, Concrete Jungle Highland Land?

  • Sandy McDonald

    • January 7th, 2013 9:58

    The Faroese seem to manage it just fine. My only worry would be having a council/government that could actually make a desicion.

  • Douglas Young

    • January 7th, 2013 10:26

    There is no reason to link Salmond with Independence; the referendum is not only your chance to seek self determination in how your Country is run, but in the election that folllows a year or so later, you have the power to choose who should run it. But since a large number of electors can’t be bothered to vote in Shetland for anything, will we continue to suffer another 300 years of London?

  • ian tinkler

    • January 7th, 2013 10:33

    Sandy that could be a problem. How about taking the old lot (some of them) out to sea in the Dunter 3 and doing a torpedo job, or maybe casting them away on a distant Rock, Sheep Rock Faire Isle, they would then be with their own kind. (Not the people of Fair Isle, I am referring to the Ovine)


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