THE MARITIME & Coastguard Agency is to consult on the future of the emergency towing vessel ahead of the contract coming up for renewal next spring.
The announcement came in a brief statement from the Department for Transport (DfT) following fears raised about the tug’s future by northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael this week.
Carmichael said on Friday it was now clear there would have to be fight to keep the £10 million tug operating in waters around the north of Scotland to ensure it was not sacrificed as part of the 37 per cent budget cuts being imposed on the transport department.
The DfT statement said: “The government fully recognises the importance of ensuring shipping activities off the coast of Scotland remain safe.
“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) will consult with stakeholders and interested parties whilst reviewing shipping safety risks around the Northern and Western Isles in Scotland and looking into commercial towing options.”
In response Carmichael said: “That is better than announcing the removal but it is clear that we have a fight on our hands if we are going to keep this vital asset.”
In 2010 the coalition government scrapped all four emergency tugs that had been based around the UK following recommendations from Lord Donaldson in his inquiry into the Braer oil spill off Shetland 22 years ago.
A two year campaign led by Carmichael, who was then deputy chief whip in the government, succeeded in bringing a tug back to northern waters with back up provided by oil industry operating in the region.
However chancellor George Osborne’s latest spending review announced on Wednesday made it clear the government wants to cut public spending even further.
Carmichael said local authorities would have to join with the Scottish government, the oil and fishing industries and local communities to campaign to keep the tug in operation.
Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills, who gave evidence to the House of Commons energy and climate change committee in 2011 a year after the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, said it would be “outrageous and irresponsible” to remove the coastguard tug.
“The government’s job is to keep the coastline safe and the situation has not changed since they agreed to station tugs in this area, and if anything it’s worse,” he said.
Wills said he would be raising the matter at next week’s meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s Community Safety and Resilience Board.