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News / MP wants answers from MCA over emergency tugs

The future of the Herakles beyond the end of March remains uncertain.

NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is calling on the House of Commons transport select committee to bring in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to give evidence over the government’s decision to withdraw provision for the emergency towing vessel (ETV).

Tug vessel coverage around Shetland and Orkney was introduced in line with recommendations from Lord Donaldson following the Braer disaster in 1993. But there is still no clarity over what the future holds just weeks before the current ETV contract expires.

During the last parliament, the government eventually backed down on plans to remove the emergency tugs. But fears are growing that, now the Tories are no longer shackled to a coalition government, those plans will now be pushed through.

Carmichael has written to the transport select committee chairwoman Louise Ellman requesting an urgent evidence session with the MCA and shipping minister Robert Goodwill.

Last Wednesday, the MP attended a day-long seminar in Edinburgh hosted by the MCA for those with an interest in the future of emergency tug cover.

“I left the seminar in Edinburgh last Wednesday deeply frustrated at the MCA’s stance on the future of our lifeline coastguard tugs,” Carmichael said.

“Their poor risk assessment was lacking in basic data, offered microscopic analysis of the risks of collisions (which has never been a problem in the past), and failed to understand the difficulties of the private sector stepping in to cover.”

The MP said he felt the government and the MCA “need to be hauled to parliament to explain in front of the transport committee why these cuts are necessary, and why, with barely seven weeks to the end of the contract, no contingency plan is in place”.

He added: “Let us not forget why we have the ETVs in the first place: the grounding of the Braer in Shetland in 1993. The subsequent, comprehensive report from Lord Donaldson could not be clearer in calling for permanent at sea vessels. If such an accident was to occur again, the consequences of not having a locally-stationed coastguard tug would be awful.”

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An MCA spokeswoman responded by saying: “The government welcomes the positive engagement of all stakeholders in the MCA’s ongoing consultation exercise. The tug is funded until at least 31 March and no decision has yet been taken about funding beyond then.”

Shetland News tabled a number of additional questions including why the decision had been left so late, but the spokeswoman replied: “I’m afraid that the statement we have given you is the only one that we are issuing at this stage.”

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