We wholly support your campaign to retain the services of an emergency tug for the Northern Isles.
Given the well-documented history of oil spills and other maritime accidents in Scottish waters it would be foolhardy in the extreme – and unbelievably short-sighted – for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and government to pull the plug on such a vital service.
Your MP is to be congratulated on raising the issue in Westminster, as are the councillors who have flagged-up the sea transports of nuclear materials and other radioactive materials from Dounreay via the port of Scrabster.
Our own campaign over the last 30 years has highlighted the unique set of risks presented by such radioactive shipments. Whether in the form of ship fires, collisions, explosions or sinking, or the increasing threat from terrorists hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons-useable cargos. The security of such trade (most of which is wholly unnecessary) and the safety of on-route communities and the marine environment is paramount and demands the best possible emergency cover.
Inexplicably, the risks to shipments from Dounreay are being deliberately exacerbated by the use of the NDA’s vessel Oceanic Pintail which, by the nuclear fleet’s own practice of retiring ships “at or before” 25 years of nuclear service, has now outlived its shelf life by almost five years.
Built in 1987 and laid up in our local Barrow docks in 2010 prior to being withdrawn, the vessel was press-ganged back into use as a stop-gap measure until a replacement could be found to carry out the NDA’s European and Atlantic business. A replacement has yet to be found.
Further compromising maritime safety is the practice adopted by the Oceanic Pintail and other vessels of the Barrow-registered nuclear fleet of turning off the vessels’ Automatic Identification System (AIS) when carrying a nuclear cargo – and increasingly even when the ship is unladen. The AIS system is designed and intended to assist a vessel’s watch-standing officers, neighbouring vessels and maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements.
Thus, invisible not only to satellite and shore tracking systems but also to neighbouring vessels whose AIS is operating (other than radar contact or line of sight), the ageing Oceanic Pintail’s “incognito” passage from Scrabster to Barrow-in-Furness around Cape Wrath – or the Pentland Firth to European ports – is inviting exactly the kind of coastal calamity for which emergency tug assistance would be indispensable.
Campaign Coordinator, Core (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment)