Chief executive of the Maritime Coastguard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, has been urged to tell Minister of State at the department of transport, Robert Goodwill MP, that more time is needed to consider alternative funding mechanisms and that the Orkney-based Herakles should, in the meantime, remain in place.
The Conservative candidate for this year’s Holyrood elections, Cameron Smith, has also added his support to the tug’s retention, in a move which may indicate the Tory hopeful is going against his party line. In a spending review last year, the Westminster government concluded funding for an ETV was not a spending priority.
“I’ve met recently with Scottish Office officials and enquired what they were doing to maintain the tug provision,” said Mr Smith.
“I think it’s clear for the isles that this is an important resource, and works to protect a number of important industries for Shetland, not just the direct marine operations but also for example, tourism into the isles.
“After the Braer, the loss to local tourism was around £18 million over the five years following the incident, so any business case examination needs to look at the broad range of possible impacts.
“I’d agree with Alistair [Carmichael] that continuing the provision, at least while the review is carried out, is a common sense approach. For my part I will continue to raise this with the Scottish Office and look for a long-term solution to the tug service.”
His comments come after The Shetland Times launched a campaign aimed at keeping tug cover in the Northern Isles.
You can sign the petition online or fill in the coupon printed in this week’s paper to add your support.
Environmental group KIMO have also highlighted Herakles as a “very valuable pollution prevention measure” which “significantly reduces the risk to mariners”.
KIMO representatives were in attendance at a stakeholders’ meeting in Edinburgh this week, which was attended by Sir Alan.
Stakeholders were asked to put forward alternative funding mechanisms, although it is believed to be extremely difficult to find any that could be implemented by 31st March, when the Herakles contract is due to expire.
KIMO UK Chairman, Raymond Christie, said the group had tried unsuccessfully to have the issue discussed with ministers a year ago.
“I thank Sir Alan and his staff for hosting the session. We all acknowledge that more work is needed to complete the process started yesterday, but retention of the Herakles whilst this is done is essential. We urge the minister to continue the funding until the process can be completed and, if required, alternative funding arrangements put in place. It is a great pity we couldn’t have started the process last February when we first brought the matter to the attention on the MCA and the minister.”
Emergency tug cover has been a contentious issue for a number of years.
In October 2011 the then coalition government revealed the national spending review, in which it decided not to renew the contract for emergency towing vessels around the UK with an eye on saving £32.5 million.
After pressure was brought to bear, the Herakles was given a reprieve to provide ETV cover to the north and west of Scotland where it was believed there was insufficient cover from commercially available tugs.
It is that reprieve which comes to an end next month.
Emergency tugs were first put in place after Lord Donaldson’s inquiry into the Braer oil spill in 1993.