Safety board gives its support for emergency tug cover
Further weight has been added to the argument in favour of retaining emergency tug cover around the isles.
Members of the local community safety and resilience board have given unanimous support for the provision to remain in place.
It follows a letter recently sent by the SIC political leader Gary Robinson to Scottish Secretary David Mundell, for assurances over tug cover once the contract to run the Orkney-based Herakles – contracted to serve waters around the Northern Isles – expires at the end of March.
A subsequent meeting was held between the two. However, board members were told no written response had so far been received from Scotland Office officials.
Last week it emerged the Maritime Coastguard Agency was set to launch a consultation exercise over the future of the tug service.
During today’s meeting SIC head of infrastructure Maggie Sandison said Mr Mundell had been left in no doubt about the importance of emergency tug provision.
Councillor Jonathan Wills said the ongoing activity in the oil and gas sector west of the isles meant tug provision was even more essential now than it had ever been.
The tugs were first introduced following the Braer grounding off Garths Ness in 1993. But Dr Wills warned there was an ongoing danger from passing tanker traffic heading to former Soviet countries.
“There is a danger from passing traffic still,” he said. “One point that hasn’t changed since 1993 is that one single incident can delete our fishing industry and our tourism for decades.”
Dr Wills cited the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 1989 – when a tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef – as an example of the lasting damage that can be done to fishing communities.
He added that it was the national government’s responsibility to protect citizens, their livelihoods and the environment.
Local coastguard chief Steve Turner said that – although a consultation exercise had been launched – he had not seen any details of it yet and was unaware of its terms of reference.
Board chairman Alistair Cooper was certainly in support of future tug provision. But he admitted sometimes questioning the value behind having only one tug.
Mr Cooper said he hoped the consultation would reflect on the effectiveness of what was required “given our locality”.
He added: “I’d move this board supports the retention of a suitable capacity to deal with stricken vessels.” Mr Cooper was seconded by Dr Wills.