The Westminster government is coming under increased pressure to retain emergency tug cover.
An existing contract to provide the Orkney-based Herakles permanently expires at the end of next month and its future is uncertain amid financial cutbacks. This newspaper last week launched a campaign and petition demanding that the emergency cover is retained.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is among those who have added to the pressure on the Westminster administration.
He has urged Parliament to hold an urgent evidence session with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency over the government’s decision to withdraw tug provision – potentially within a few weeks.
Mr Carmichael has written to transport committee chairwoman Louise Ellman. He said: “I believe the government and the MCA need to be hauled to Parliament to explain in front of the transport committee why these cuts are necessary, and why, with barely seven weeks to the end of the contract, no contingency plan is in place.”
Tug provision was introduced in the aftermath of the 1993 Braer oil tanker grounding. The Conservative candidate in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, Cameron Smith, has also given his support to the campaign to retain the tug.
He said: “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.”
You can back the campaign by filling in the petition on page three of today’s newspaper and returning it to The Shetland Times, or sign the online petition available at www.shetlandtimes.co.uk.
Some of those who have already backed the campaign have left strongly-worded comments in favour of retaining the tug.
One of them, Alistair Williamson, wrote under the petition: “Lack of an emergency towing vessel, should a ship carrying a cargo of crude get into difficulties around the Northern Isles, would be a disaster for Shetland or Orkney and ultimately cost much more than the expense of maintaining the tug.”
Former Bigton resident Roy Chamberlain is one of those who says he witnessed the devastation caused by the 1993 oil spill.
He wrote: “[I] saw the damage the Braer inflicted on people and that could have been stopped if these tugs had been available then, the government has to bite the bullet and pay [for] these essential safeguards.”
One of those with responsibility for the decision is the Westminster transport minister Robert Goodwill. He yesterday contacted The Shetland Times, as this newspaper was due to go to press. Mr Goodwill did not provide a comment on the matter, but said he expected to have more to say following a briefing that is due to take place on Monday.
● For full coverage, see this week’s Shetland Times. Add your name to the petition.