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The emergency towing vessel Herakles.

NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has blasted the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for its “incoherent” thinking towards the future of the emergency towing vessel.

Carmichael was one of a number of representatives invited by the MCA to a seminar in Edinburgh on Wednesday to discuss the future of the vessel, which is based in the Northern Isles.

Its current contract is due to run out in less than two months, causing concern over the provision of emergency cover in the north and west of Scotland.

Speaking after the meeting, Carmichael said that the MCA presented a risk assessment for removing the vessel, adding that the government agency wasn’t able to identify how to fill the gap.

“It was apparent five years ago that the MCA did not see the value in the emergency towing vessel and it was equally clear from today’s session that this has not changed,” Carmichael said.

“They produced a risk assessment which, even though it had massive gaps in it, still showed the risk associated with removing a locally-stationed tug was unacceptably high.

“They seem to expect the private sector to fill the gap that they are intending leaving but can not identify where that is going to come from.”

He said the government was putting the cart before the horse when assessing risk after the decision to remove the budget had already been made.

“In these circumstances it is difficult to see this exercise as a meaningful or good faith exercise,” the Northern Isles MP said.

Emergency towing vessels were introduced following the Donaldson inquiry into the 1993 grounding of the Braer tanker on the southern tip of Shetland.

The Kirkwall-based Herakles currently covers the north and west of Scotland, but its contract is due to expire on 31 March.

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