MSP raises ETV concerns with Secretary of State for Scotland

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is wondering what incident will have to happen in the waters around the Northern and Western Isles before the government will see sense and reinstate a second emergency towing vessel (ETV) in the area.

Mrs Grant, like many others, was furious that the Westminster government removed the ETV from Stornoway back in 2012.

Previously two ETVs covered north and west coast waters, one based in Stornoway and one based in Shetland.

The government’s cost cutting exercise in 2012 however saw one of the tugs removed and the remaining one stationed in Orkney. Just days after the ETV was removed from Stornoway, a cargo ship ran aground on North Uist.

The latest incident with the grounding of the Transocean Winner rig last month led to increased calls for the reinstatement of another ETV in the north.

Rhoda Grant, said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland has told me that it would have been extremely difficult, even if there had been an ETV in the area, to secure another tow on to the unmanned rig when contending with 40-45 knots of wind in 10 metre seas.

“I accept that it might not have helped with the rig on this occasion, but even if it could have, it wouldn’t have as it wasn’t there.”

Mrs Grant was also advised by the Secretary of State that the invitation which has just gone out to tender will be for a single ETV to cover both the Northern and Western Isles region and that the new contract is likely to include a patrolling function, taking account of weather forecasts and vessel traffic services.

Mrs Grant said: “The patrolling function of this contract is all very welcome but regardless of forecasts and traffic services unpredictable accidents still happen and no amount of forecast or vessel traffic planning will counter for this.

“If the tug is in Orkney at the time it will still take eight hours to get round to Stornoway and a lot longer to get to the south of the islands.”

Continuing, Rhoda Grant said: “We appear to be running on, and relying on, good luck when it comes to incidents in north and west coast waters. What needs to happen before the government sees sense and reinstates another ETV?

“We cannot simply rely on good fortune to protect staff, passengers and our environment from any future disasters. It is the job of government to make sure our waters are adequately protected and I will not give up the fight to see this happen.”