Plans to tow vessel with crew on strike branded ‘unacceptable and dangerous’

Serious safety fears have been voiced over plans to tow a massive oil production vessel while her crew are on strike.

Unite the union said it had been met with a “wall of silence” in its calls for assurances from vessel operator Altera.

The Petrojarl Foinaven is expected to go under tow tomorrow (Wednesday) after around 25 years producing oil from the Foinaven field, 120 miles west of Shetland, for her client BP.

Both Altera and BP have stressed their commitment to safety and said plans were in place to ensure the vessel’s safe removal. 

However, around 60 Unite members on board the vessel are scheduled to begin strike action on Friday – when she will still be under tow. The vessel is not expected to arrive in Hunterston Port until early next week.

Unite has accused Altera of repeatedly refusing to respond to safety concerns over the emergency services provision for the vessel if she comes into distress or suffers a fire.

Unite industrial officer Vic Fraser said: “Unite has repeatedly sought assurances that Altera are clear on the actions that our members will be taking during the strike, and the effect this has on the Fionaven during tow. 

“We have asked Altera if they have contacted its client BP, the towing company Maersk, and all the regulators to ensure that they are also fully aware of the implications due to the strike action.

“We remain deeply concerned for the safety of the crew during the tow which is likely to involve around 50 people, for the Foinaven itself, the towing vessels and the wider environment should anything go wrong.

“Quite literally our members could be stranded at sea for days without any clear safety procedures in place. To date we have faced a wall of silence from Altera over these real concerns which is unacceptable and dangerous.”

Unite announced last week its members on board the vessel would be striking after 96 per cent voted in favour.

The dispute centres on offshore members being given a significantly inferior redundancy package compared with Altera’s onshore workforce.

Altera said it remained committed to the safe demobilisation of the vessel. 

“Safety remains the absolute priority and the towing operation requires to be conducted within a timeframe that reflects this,” it said. 

“It is important that we take advantage of favourable weather and operational conditions to this end.

“At no time has the operation been rushed, and will only proceed with the endorsement of BP, other interested parties, the technical team and the UK authorities.

“As with any offshore operation, full contingency plans are in place to address any challenges which may arise.

“We remain committed to bringing Foinaven safely back to port after her many years of service in the North Sea and we have absolute confidence that we have all the necessary requirements in place to ensure a safe and compliant tow.”

BP said safety was always its first priority.

“We continue to work closely with Altera and are satisfied with the plans in place for the safe removal of the Petrojarl Foinaven FPSO.”


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