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Mackay takes stand against removing emergency tug

Scottish transport and islands minister Derek Mackay, flanked by fellow SNP minister Marco Biagi and SIC political leader Gary Robinson at Lystina House on Monday. Photo: Shetnews

THE SCOTTISH Government strongly opposes the Tories’ plan to remove a tug providing emergency cover for the waters in and around the Northern Isles, transport and islands minister Derek Mackay said on a visit to Shetland on Monday.

Speaking at Lystina House following a meeting with leaders from all three Scottish island groups, Mackay said the SNP administration had made its opposition clear to the Westminster government.

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“We think provision should be satisfactory to Scotland, and we had asked for more emergency towing vessels than the UK Government promises,” he said. “Their position to withdraw it completely is of deep concern.”

Attempts to remove the coastguard tug by the last UK Government were eventually fought off, but fears are growing that – no longer shackled by a coalition with the Liberal Democrats – the Tories will this time remove the tug.

The Herakles is currently stationed in Kirkwall, in line with recommendations from Lord Donaldson in the wake of the 1993 Braer tanker disaster, but that contract expires at the end of March.

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With no clarity just weeks before the ETV contract ends, politicians including Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael have called on the UK Government to explain its position.

An ongoing consultation is believed to once again be looking at whether privately owned vessels operating in the area could provide emergency cover in the event of a disaster.

Asked whether the Scottish Government might step in with a solution in the event that cover is removed, Mackay responded: “The Scottish Government spends a lot of energy trying to mitigate the impact of Westminster’s decisions, but the first priority has to be to stop the UK Government doing what they’re proposing to do.

“We can’t substitute everything they withdraw from Scotland – all the reason to apply pressure on Westminster and the UK Government, and we will continue to do that.”

Last week an MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) spokeswoman said no decision had been taken about funding, but said she was unable to answer more detailed questions on the tug’s future while the consultation continued.

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