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