The wait to hear the long-term future of the emergency towing vessel may soon be over, it has been revealed.
The Tory government’s transport minister, Robert Goodwill, has promised an announcement on the tug “very soon”.
It comes after a “substantial and comprehensive” risk assessment carried out by the private sector into the dangers of removing the tug.
Now, isles MP Alistair Carmichael has urged the minister to ensure the “substantial piece of work” is at the heart of his considerations.
Doubts have been surrounding the future of the Orkney-based Herakles since last November, when it emerged the Westminster government had made no reference to the vessel in its spending review.
That sparked a campaign by this newspaper to have the tug retained to help maintain maritime safety.
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The contract was originally due to expire at the end of March but was given a six-month extension until the end of September.
But a question mark has remained over the service following on from then.
The issue was raised by Mr Carmichael in the House of Commons this week.
Mr Goodwill told him: “The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has consulted with all interested parties about options for future provision beyond September 2016, and I expect to make an announcement very soon.”
In response, Mr Carmichael highlighted a recent stakeholder’s group meeting convened by the MCA, where the far-reaching risk assessment document was received.
He described it as “a proper, substantial piece of work commissioned from the private sector which made it clear that to remove this tug would be an unacceptable risk for the coastal and island communities of Scotland.
“Will the minister, when he comes to make a decision make sure that that risk assessment is on his desk and is at the heart of his considerations?”
Mr Goodwill said he understood the importance of maritime safety “in the northern waters”.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Carmichael said ignoring the risk assessment would be an act of “criminal recklessness”.
“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency eventually asked a private sector company, LOC, to provide a risk assessment about the removal of the coastguard tug.
“They did not hold back in their analysis of the dangers of there not being a permanent at sea vessel. Ministers, officials and stakeholders have all seen the report, so to ignore it now would be an act of criminal recklessness.
“The tug is our ultimate insurance policy. Time and time again I have pressed the government on this matter.
“I have been assured by Robert Goodwill that an announcement on the ETV’s future is imminent and whilst we await that I hope he is taking on board the widest range of views from the communities affected, including local authorities, businesses and relevant stakeholders.”
The emergency tugs have a strong link with the isles – their initial introduction followed a report by Lord Donaldson into the Braer disaster of January 1993.
The issue was also raised during this week’s Islands Summit in Orkney, which was attended by council leaders from all three island groups.