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Carmichael furious over tug decision

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael is seeking an urgent meeting to turn around government plans to remove the emergency tug that protects the Shetland and Orkney coastline.

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency did not inform Mr Carmichael before they announced on Wednesday that from next September they would be scrapping the four emergency towing vessels based in the northern isles, the western isles, south west England and the Dover Straits, a move which will save £32.5 million over four years.

They said that the government did not think providing emergency towing vessels was “a correct use of taxpayers’ money” and that “ship salvage should be a commercial matter between a ship’s operator and the salvor”.

Mr Carmichael, who is the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip within the Westminster government, immediately contacted Conservative shipping minister Mike Penning to voice his concerns.

He echoed the anger that greeted the news in Shetland, which had lobbied hard for the tugs to be deployed following the 1993 Braer oil spill that prompted an inquiry led by Lord Donaldson who recommended their introduction.

On Wednesday night Mr Carmichael said: “I was exceptionally surprised by the announcement and by the reasons offered for the proposals.

“I have already discussed this with the shipping minister and am seeking an urgent meeting with the chief executive of the MCA, which I would expect within the next day or two.

“I should be reminding them that the tug in the northern isles is on station as a result of the Donaldson inquiry following the Braer, and I shall be exploring with them in depth how they envisage that coverage being provided in the northern isles in the future.”

Shetland Islands Council harbour board chairman Alistair Cooper had described the government decision as “an own goal” so soon after declaring that deep sea drilling west of Shetland was proceeding under the highest safety standards in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.