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Marine / KIMO raises doubts over coastguard ship rescue capability

Coelleira on the Vee Skerries. Photo: Gary Sandison.

AN INTERNATIONAL marine environment body has called on coastguard emergency towing vessels to be considered a “blue light” service like other first response services, whose priority should be saving life.

KIMO International, whose secretariat is based in Shetland, has called for a “comprehensive network” of emergency towing vessels (ETVs) around the UK coast.

KIMO also said that present search and rescue capabilities would be inadequate to handle a repeat of the Viking Sky2 incident in Norway – where only about one third of the people on board the ship were rescued in a 19-hour helicopter evacuation before the weather eased enough to get the vessel under tow.

It was also critical of a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) study into present safety and towing arrangements saying its scope “will seriously undermine the study’s effectiveness.”

KIMO’s criticisms come less than a week after a 30m long Oban registered ship grounded on the Vee Skerries on its way to land fish that had been caught around Shetland.

Despite repeated attempts, the much larger and more powerful coastguard emergency towing vessel Ievoli Black was unable to refloat the Coelleira and the tug was subsequently moved to Lerwick to take part in boat week.

The Gallicean owned long-liner grounded on The Clubb on Sunday (4 August). Concerns have been raised about whether her gear is still in the sea “ghost fishing” and whether fuel is still on board the 49-year-old vessel.

An open letter from KIMO to Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) chief executive Brian Johnson says: “The assessments carried out within the study focus only on the risk to shipping and the impacts on the environment but do not consider intercept times (the length of time it takes for an ETV to arrive at the scene of an incident).

“Since this is critical to the safeguarding of life at sea, KIMO believes that mechanisms and the mind set at Ministerial level for assessing the needs for maritime safety and emergencies must change and that ETV provision should be considered a ‘blue light’ service in line with other first response services (such as police, fire and ambulance) which have response times set by Government.”

Although the study was in part to assess the changing nature of shipping in the UK EEZ, according to KIMO, there is a “worrying lack of attention” to the fastest growing cruise sector.

“Cruise liners carrying up to 5000 passengers and crew are now a regular feature around the UK and Irish coasts and it is clear that in view of incidents such as the Viking Sky2 in March of this year in Norway our traditional SAR capabilities would not work.”

It adds: “KIMO was surprised that the element of search and rescue capability (SAR) was not within the scope of the study. The provision of a comprehensive ETV network around the whole of the UK should be based on the time it takes an ETV to arrive at the scene to prevent a shipping loss or accident.”

According to KIMO, Lord Donaldson who headed an inquiry into the loss of the Braer at Garths Ness in 1993, was “surprised and alarmed” at the number of potentially serious incidents uncovered by his inquiry and, regarding major pollution, felt it was “a matter of chance”.

The report published 103 recommendations including that a UK Government subsidised salvage tug service should be made available at key points around the United Kingdom.

KIMO says it submitted a formal response to the workshop assessments in June but has not “received a response that adequately addresses any of the key issues raised.”

It has asked the MCA to publish the open letter as there is “no further opportunity to input further into this process and no formal consultation”.

It adds that the lack of opportunity for further input “is not in line with Government guidance for public engagement”.

A coastguard spokesman said today (Sunday) that Coelleira was lying on her side and that the Lerwick owned workboat Constructor was “assisting” in the operation, whose next stages were still under consideration.