Shetland can once again rely on the support of two emergency tugs following a deal between the UK government and BP.
The contract, which was finally signed yesterday, will enable the BP-chartered anchor-handling vessel Grampian Frontier to respond to marine pollution incidents.
The tug is currently stationed at the Schiehallion field west of Shetland. Her owner North Star Shipping is working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to ensure all crew and equipment are able to respond to an incident.
The announcement was welcomed, although environmental group Kimo insisted further clarification was needed over the area the Grampian Frontier will cover, response times and operational capabilities.
“Kimo is concerned that if there is a shipping incident south of Cape Wrath then response times of the current tugs would be too great to make a difference,” a statement read.
“We would urge the Department of Transport to consider this gaping hole in emergency response capabilities.”
However the group did recognise the efforts of the Scottish Secretary.
“Without the efforts of Michael Moore… there would be no ETV coverage in Scotland and it is testament to his department’s efforts that emergency response capabilities are in place in some parts of the Scottish coast.”
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael welcomed the deal.
“This agreement has been a long time coming but it is all the more welcome for that. I am delighted that BP has put up the money and has agreed to make their tug available should it be needed.
“Credit should be given to Secretary of State for Scotland Mike Moore and Secretary of State for Transport Patrick MacLoughlin, who have brokered this deal.
“Obviously we shall still have the Herakles stationed in Kirkwall but as it is covering not just the Northern Isles but also the Western Isles having this back-up to call on is most welcome.
“This agreement shows what can be achieved when government and the private sector work together. I hope that other oil companies operating to the north and west of Scotland will follow the lead given by BP and see what contribution they can make.”
Monday’s announcement brings the number of emergency tugs serving Scottish waters back up to two – the level it was at before plans to cut ETV cover was announced in 2010.
At that time another two tugs were hired by the coastguard to provide assistance in waters south of the border as well. Their introduction was prompted by the Braer disaster 20 years ago.
The government moved to end the contracts in 2011 before agreeing to a series of short extensions.
The deal with the oil industry follows the introduction of a government-funded tug, Herakles, based in Orkney. But support from the government for that vessel is only expected to last until the end of the spending review in 2015.
Kemo’s UK chairman, Len Scoullar, “urged” the government to commit to ETV provision beyond that date.
More reaction in The Shetland Times.