SAVE THE TUG: Support for emergency tug bridges party divides

Cross-party support in favour of tug retention has been voiced across the three island groups, and in the Highlands as well.

Back The Shetland Times Save the Tug campaign –
Back The Shetland Times Save the Tug campaign –

Isles MSP Tavish Scott and his Orkney counterpart, Liam McArthur, have written to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) chief executive, Sir Alan Massey, to highlight the importance of keeping the Herakles.

Lib Dem candidate in the Scottish election for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Jamie Stone, has also had a hand in the MCA letter while the SNP’s Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has stressed the importance of saving the tug.

It comes as The Shetland Times campaign and petition Save The Tug continues to gather strength, both online and through its cut-out coupons available in our newspaper.

In their letter to Sir Alan, Messrs McArthur, Scott and Stone stressed the importance of ensuring a salvage tug is available in the Northern Isles coastal waters.

Mr Scott said removing the emergency cover provided by the tug would be “the height of folly”.

“The Tory UK government were quick to agree to the MCA’s reduction in ETVs in 2010. The remaining salvage vessel based in Orkney covers the whole of the north of Scotland and all of the sea traffic that passes through it. It would be the height of folly to remove the tug from providing the marine emergency cover that the area needs. The Fair Isle channel is a busy maritime route for vessels of different sizes, nationalities and destinations.

“I fear the UK government know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Why are they so determined to forget the recommendations of the Donaldson Report that followed the grounding of the Braer oil tanker on the south end of Shetland in 1993?

“Eighty-five thousand tonnes of crude oil were spilt into the marine environment. Only the worst run of gales in living memory saved an environmental and economic disaster.

The coastguard tug Herakles, seen here in Scalloway Harbour. Photo: Mark Burgess.
The coastguard tug Herakles, seen here in Scalloway Harbour. Photo: Mark Burgess.

“So cutting funding for the current tug would demonstrate a complete lack of common sense and could have disastrous consequences.

Therefore, I hope the MCA will recognise the folly of their ministerial masters and find a way to maintain funding for the salvage tug covering the Northern Isles.”

Mr McArthur highlighted the rescue of a cargo ship in waters around Hoy which, he said, provided a “timely reminder” of how essential the ETV service is.

“The case for retaining the ETV in the Northern Isles was successfully made back in 2011 and remains as strong today as it did back then. Nothing has changed, and nor should the support of ministers and the MCA.”

Mr Stone added: “In the nightmare scenario of a marine spillage in or around the Pentland Firth, the tug is the first line of defence for the north coast of the mainland. Any failure to maintain this defence would be nothing less than a betrayal of a remote and special part of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Allan stressed there was a clear need to keep the vessel. Highlighting numerous incidents around the Western Isles when a tug was necessary, he said there was a case to be made for two vessels rather than just one.

He also dwelt on the occasion in October 2010 when a tug had to come to the aid of a nuclear submarine which got into difficulty near Skye.

“I think there is a common concern which is that there is a need for a tug for the east coast of Scotland, but there is also a need for a tug for the west and further south.

“There used to be two emergency towing vessels [for the whole of Scotland] but there is now essentially only one.

“I think there is a common concern, and people across all parties have the same view on this as far as I can tell.

“There should be two vessels. It’s the UK government who has made the decision that there should only be one. There have been numerous incidents… where the tug has been 200 miles away from where she is needed.”

The MCA scrapped three tugs serving the rest of the UK in 2011. Concerns have been raised that the existing tug will be abandoned when UK government funding is withdrawn for in March.

In their letter to the MCA’s chief executive, Mr McArthur, Mr Scott and Mr Stone stressed the importance of ensuring a salvage tug is available in the Northern Isles coastal waters.



Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • February 22nd, 2016 11:25

    The introduction of the tugs was initiated by the inquiry into the sinking at Garthsness of the stricken oil tanker Braer as a safety measure to prevent further disasters.

    We were lucky with the Braer, it contained light crude, much of which evaporated or disappeared in the following 3 weeks of continuous fierce storms. Heavy crude would have caused a lot more problems and there are many much bigger tankers than the Braer on the sea.

    Shetland’s biggest industry, fish,, is now heavily regulated and great store is placed upon environmental considerations for marketing its products. A major oil spill could cause devastating damage to that currently thriving industry.

    Yet, despite all the billions that have flowed to the UK Treasury from oil, the Westminster government cannot see fit to maintain the tug cover for, not only Shetland but Orkney and the north of Scotland, as well.

    This is a travesty. If Shetland and Orkney were self-governing this would not be an issue, tug cover would, simply, be maintained.

    Please sign the petition at

  • Charles Gallagher

    • February 22nd, 2016 15:29

    With Danus speedily recuperating and Robbie off the Island I can confirm that Dr. Alasdair Allen, MSP, SNP Western Isles speaks for the whole of the SNP. The SNP at Westtminster and Holyrood maintain that there is insufficient “Ocean Salvage Tug” cover along the whole Scottish coastline let alone the pristine seas surrounding not only our precious Northern Isles but also our neighbours and friends in the Inner and Outer Hebrides and we will fight any Westminster cuts to the bitter end.

    We in Shetland Branch, SNP, like all the other Party’s who have joined this protest hope and pray that it is not going to take another Braer or worse still another nuclear submarine incapable of basic navigation and running aground in the Kyle of Lochalsh which fortuitously on that occassion did not leak any radio-activity to bring Westminster to its senses, though personally I have grave doubts.

    You should all take note that Westminster has no hesitation about providing tug cover in the English Channel.

    Charles Gallagher

    • John Tulloch

      • February 22nd, 2016 21:02

      Charlie, I’m pleased to hear the SNP are challenging the possible loss of the tug cover, thank you for that.

      You say Danus is still recuperating and Robbie is “off the island” which possibly explains some of the nonsense being written in the Whalsay fish factory debate on Facebook by Douglas Young and other SNP Shetland supporters?

      Would you please clarify SNP Shetland’s position on the SIC’s decision to waft away, without proper investigation, the proposal to enlarge the Whalsay harbour so that it can accommodate the local fishing fleet in bad weather and provide landing facilities for a brand new, ‘state of the art’ fish factory which would be built and operated by a large, vertically-integrated (own fleet) Norwegian processing company?

  • iantinkler

    • February 22nd, 2016 15:59

    “or worse still another nuclear submarine incapable of basic navigation and running aground in the Kyle of Lochalsh which fortuitously on that occasion did not leak any radio-activity” Come on Charlie Boy, no member of any RN or NATO sub crews have ever been harmed by radiation leaking from a SSN or SSBN. That is over the last 50 0r so years! Hell of a lot of people have been harmed falling of Ewing’s windmills. We need a tug, sure, but do not muddy the waters with your infantile scare mongering. If I remember Salmond and Sturgeon were all for nuclear NATO and all its subs. Even letting them dock in all Scottish ports, including Lerwick, under NATO protocols.

  • iantinkler

    • February 22nd, 2016 21:25

    SNP. Statement, SNP. Salmond and Sturgeon. Just a few truths.
    While they are both strong advocates for nuclear disarmament, both Norway and Denmark allow NATO vessels to visit their ports without confirming or denying whether they carry nuclear weapons. We intend that Scotland will adopt a similar approach as Denmark and Norway in this respect.
    ( That means all military bases, including airfields and reserves, TA (Territorial Army) and RNR( Royal Naval Reserve). That includes Trident armed Submarines( RN and USN, RAF and USAF, nuclear armed aircraft, nuclear armed (tactical) RN and USN ships.

  • iantinkler

    • February 22nd, 2016 21:43

    iantinkler, For those who may be interested. Surgeon Lieutenant Commander (D), Ian Tinkler, Royal Naval Reserve. (retired).
    General duties, Tactical Comms (peacetime): Resuscitation officer, medical, (CHEMICAL/BIOLOGICAL WARFARE ), Shetland, Scotland, Norway (Wartime), Thank God never needed!!!

  • Gordon Harmer

    • February 23rd, 2016 8:19

    I hear on the radio today that the tug has been given a six month reprieve to see if a better deal for the British tax payer can be negotiated. I also heard that this is the only tug in the UK to be funded by the UK government. Which makes me wonder if Charlie’s assertion that “Westminster has no hesitation about providing tug cover in the English Channel” is just blatant SNP electioneering.

  • iantinkler

    • February 23rd, 2016 9:28

    “Charlie’s assertion that “Westminster has no hesitation about providing tug cover in the English Channel” is just blatant SNP electioneering.” Charlie boy, is just taking a leaf out of the Ali C truth book. Just a bit of SNP crass hypocrisy!! I wonder what the “Orkney Four” will do about that?


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