The Maritime Coastguard Agency has been accused of failing to see the value in emergency tug cover, as the end of the contract for the vessel serving the isles draws ever nearer.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has criticised the coastguard agency after it produced a risk assessment which, he says, fails badly to address concerns.
It comes after a stakeholders meeting in Edinburgh amid fears tug cover may end once the contract finishes in less than two months.
The isles have only been able to enjoy a reduced level of tug provision since the previous coalition government sought to scrap the vessels in October 2011 with an eye on saving £32.5 million.
But following pressure from Mr Carmichael and others, the Herakles was given a reprieve to provide cover for the north of Scotland from its Orkney base.
That reprieve comes to an end on 31st March, and concerns are running high over whether any level of service will remain after that. Mr Carmichael says the contract should be given an immediate extension.
“It was apparent five years ago that the MCA did not see the value in the emergency towing vessel and it was equally clear from today’s session that this has not changed,” said Mr Carmichael.
“They produced a risk assessment which, even though it has massive gaps in it, still showed the risk associated with removing a locally-stationed tug was unacceptably high.
“They seem to expect the private sector to fill the gap that they are intending leaving but can not identify where that is going to come from.”
He argued that the Westminster government had “put the cart before the horse”.
“They are assessing risk after the decision has been made to remove the budget. In these circumstances it is difficult to see this exercise as a meaningful or good faith exercise.”
Emergency tugs were introduced following a recommendation by Lord Donaldson in light of the Braer disaster off Garths Ness in January 1993.
Mr Carmichael added: “He [Lord Donaldson] identified in detail the considerations that the government should take into account when considering these decisions. You would have thought that this would have been a very obvious starting point for the MCA. It was blindingly obvious that they had not.
“If the government are sincere when they say that they want to consult then the first thing they should do is extend the contract beyond the current end date of 31st March. That can be done and should be done.”