GOVERNMENT funding for the northern isles emergency towing vessel (ETV) has been extended by six months to allow time to find a permanent solution.
The Herakles, stationed in Orkney, was due to be withdrawn at the end of March.
Politicians in Orkney and Shetland welcomed the six-month extension, announced by UK transport minister Robert Goodwill.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the area needed a permanent salvage tug.
“The seafood industry is valued at £350 million,” he said. “That is massively important for Shetland and the wider UK economy.
“I want the UK Government to spend the next few months working out a permanent contract for the salvage tug based in our waters. We need an end to sticking plaster policy that is the hallmark of this government.”
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the government’s move was an admission that removing the tug would be unacceptable.
“We still have a fight on our hands here to justify the expenditure but the case for keeping the tug is a strong one. It is up to us in the isles to make it – no one will do it for us.
“There is no getting away from the fact that the cost of this tug is significant. The fact is that the cost of chartering tugs has rarely been cheaper than it is at the moment.
“The minister could achieve significant savings for the tax payer by committing to a long term deal now. This is the time to act,” he said.
Speaking in the Commons on Monday night, Goodwill said: “I have instructed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to make immediate arrangements to extend the provision of a government-funded emergency towing vessel to mirror the current arrangements until 30 September this year.”
The minister is expected to visit the Northern Isles during the summer to see the tug operating in the north of Scotland.
Councillor Raymond Christie, the chairman of maritime environmental campaigners KIMO UK, thanked MCA chief executive Sir Alan Massey for extending the contract temporarily.
“However, the move to extend funding for such a short duration demonstrates that the UK Government still holds the view that ETVs aren’t required,” Christie said.
“They are wrong and we will be redoubling our efforts to ensure that the correct decision is reached in the long term.”
SNP MP Ian Blackford continues to press the case for a two-boat solution including the reinstatement of the Stornoway tug to cover the whole west coast.
Blackford told the Commons on Monday: “The desire to provide marine safety cannot come at the expense of a penny-pinching government walking away from their responsibilities. It is a responsibility of this government to maintain that protection.”
He welcomed the decision to extend the contract, adding: “This is a small price to pay. We need that insurance policy. I am grateful that the Orkney vessel is being kept on for the next six months, but please let us make sure we get a solution that protects all our communities.
“That means the re-establishment of a two-vessel solution for the north and the west of Scotland.”