The UK government will fund the emergency towing vessel for the next five years, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill has announced.
It follows news that the Orkney-based Herakles was being saved from the axe following months of campaigning.
The contract was due to end on 30th September. The last government-funded emergency tug risked being lost if no further agreement had been in place by then.
Originally, four emergency tugs were introduced around UK waters in light of recommendations in Lord Donaldson’s report into the Braer disaster.
Under the new contract, the MCA will seek to recover costs of the Herakles from the shipping industry wherever possible. It aims, in the longer term, to explore opportunities for the vessel to take on “low-risk” commercial work.
Earlier this year, Mr Goodwill asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to look at alternative options for towing provision beyond September. But the decision has now been reached that there is a “strong case” for the UK government to step in to allow the service to continue.
Mr Goodwill said: “The emergency towing vessel in Scotland saves lives and protects the Scottish coast from damaging pollution. I am delighted to confirm the UK government has secured its future by providing funding for the next five years.
“This service is absolutely critical to ensuring emergency services can respond swiftly to incidents off the coast of Scotland.
“We have taken this decision following extensive consultation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. This is an important measure to ensure maritime safety and pollution prevention measures in the waters around Scotland.”
The MCA review concluded the commercial towage market cannot currently reliably meet the need for a dedicated service to cover the seas around Scotland.
The vessel will help assist ships in difficulty and safeguard local communities and businesses against potential pollution incidents.
Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell said: “I am very pleased that the UK government can guarantee the future funding of the emergency towing vessel stationed in the Northern Isles. The islands councils have impressed upon us how important it is to maritime safety in the area. The UK government has listened to what they have said, and is now able to secure the funding to maintain this vital safety vessel in the north of Scotland.”
The MCA is said to have consulted extensively with local stakeholders, industry and the Scottish government ahead of today’s announcement.
It will now commence tendering for a new contract for a period of up to five years.
It is hoped these measures will reduce the overall cost to the taxpayer. Any costs recovered will go towards additional patrolling and crew training to further enhance maritime safety around the country.