SAFETY | UK Minister faces questions over removal of tugs

MSP suggests decision is less than astute

Cameron Brooks | The Press and Journal | 2010.10.26

UK shipping minister Mike Penning will be lobbied at Holyrood today about a controversial decision to scrap the emergency tugboat service.

Highland MSP John Farquhar Munro will urge him to reverse the decision to remove emergency towing vessels which patrol waters between Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles.

The Liberal Democrat claims the move to save £32million was “short sighted” and could lead to the loss of lives.

The Stornoway-based tug Anglian Prince was in action on Friday when she helped re-float the stranded nuclear submarine HMS Astute.

Mr Farquhar Munro is meeting Mr Penning before he gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee on another matter tomorrow.

The Ross, Skye and Inverness West MSP said: “I need to impress upon the minister how vital this tug is in preventing maritime accidents.

“It is a vital insurance policy to protect us from the massive cost of a major marine accident.

“If just one of the many oil tankers which pass up and down the Minch was to run aground on our coastline, the environmental damage would be devastating and the associated cost to our vital tourist and seafood industries would be catastrophic.”

The tugs were introduced following the report by Lord Donaldson into the risks of coastal pollution after the Braer oil tanker spill off Shetland in 1993 [read more about it at http://www.braer.net/].

The UK Government said the decision to scrap the vessels, and two others based on the south coast of England, by September 2011 would save the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) £32million.

Mr Penning has argued that the two Scottish tugs have attended very few incidents in recent years.

MCA figures showed the Stornoway tug was only deployed five times and the Shetland vessel seven times between 2004 and 2009.

But Mr Farquhar Munro said the argument that commercial salvage tugs would step in was “spurious”.

“They were not around before the coastguard tug arrived,” he added.

“They were not lying off Shetland when the Braer was wrecked.

“The minister needs to have another longer-term look at this.”

Meanwhile, HMS Astute returned to base yesterday.

The submarine was being put through sea trials on Friday in a channel between Skye and Kyle of Lochalsh when she went aground.

The 328ft sub was later rescued at high tide by the Anglian Prince and towed to deeper waters for checks on the rudder.

The UK’s most powerful attack submarine, made her way back to Faslane on the Clyde on the surface under her own power and will undergo further checks.

Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials said the investigation into the incident would be “full and thorough”.

The investigation will also consider if any crew were negligent and the submarine’s skipper, Commander Andy Coles, could find himself in front of a court martial.

But an MoD spokesman said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the possibility of disciplinary action until the investigation is complete.

There were no reports of any injuries and the MoD said it was not a “nuclear incident”.

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