Yesterday both Comhairle nan Eilean Siar convener Norman Macdonald and Hugh Shaw, Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention, told the Gazette early indications were encouraging that there was no leakage of the stricken Transocean Winner rig at Dalmore Beach.
While they admitted a quantity of hydraulic oil may have been lost they were hopeful the 280 tonnes of diesel on board the 17,000 tonne semi-submersible rig was secure.
After the Gazette went to press at lunchtime yesterday (Wednesday, August 10) it emerged that two of the fuel tanks appear to have been breached, however it is unclear how much oil from those tanks has been released to the environment.
A damage assessment team from Smit Salvage and Transocean has been on board the oil rig grounded off the Isle of Lewis to carry out a series of initial inspections.
They spent three and a half hours on Tuesday checking the condition of the Transocean Winner looking at its structural integrity.
“I have asked them to check that the diesel is safe and secure with no leakage,” said Hugh Shaw, Secretary of State’s representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention. “People locally in the area did report some fuel smells on Monday but I didn’t detect any on Tuesday. We think there are thrusters on each of the legs and one may be damaged and, as a consequence, it may be that there has been a leak of hydraulic oil which would have caused the smell.
“I asked Transocean at a meeting on Tuesday morning to come back and let me know what kind of quantity of hydraulic oil we may have lost had this been the cause. Until the guys come back with information, we don’t know. The crew went on and spent around three and a half hours on board on Tuesday and I’ll be getting an update today (Wednesday) so I’m as yet unaware of the findings.
“A crew was hoping to go back on board this morning again. At the moment we have had no information but I will be briefed on that this morning.”
Speaking on Wednesday morning before the news broke of the ruptured tanks, Mr Macdonald said: “In terms of the containment of the diesel oil there is nothing definitive on that yet,” he said.
“There is no indication at this stage that the diesel tanks have been breached in any way and that’s still the position but that’s not to say that if things change it could become an issue in the future if the rig starts shifting.
“It is still fairly early stages at the moment and we need to check the structural integrity of the rig to see what may need to be done in terms of a salvage plan which will need to be formulated in the next few days – and the time scale of that will be weather dependant.
“It is clear that this could be a prolonged incident as well. It may take some time and considerable amount of work before they can resolve this.”
There were no personnel on board the rig while it was being towed from Norway en-route to Malta before blown aground during strong winds after it was separated from its towing vessel, which shocked local residents as it was washed up on headland just off their shore.
Northern Scotland’s only emergency rescue tug was dispatched from it’s Orkney-base on Monday to lend assistance but Mr Shaw says he may stand the vessel down until further investigations into the rig are complete.
“We have three tugs involved,” said Mr Shaw. “We have the Alp Forward which was towing the rig to begin with, we have the Union bear which was in Stornoway and is waiting for some towing lines and then it may mobilise around there. We also have the emergency tug we brought round which is sitting there now. It won’t be used until we begin formulating the salvage plan if we are looking for additional power to help get the rig off so I may stand her down and consider bringing her back later if that is part of the plan that the salvers want at the end of the day.”
The mild weather on Tuesday and Wednesday allowed the small team of salvers the opportunity to board the rig via winch but with the forecast predicting a turn in the weather on Thursday, Mr Shaw admitted they could be forced to wait for a break.
“We have two concerns,” he said. “One is that the bad weather would stop us getting people on board as there is no access by boat which means we won’t be able to do anything from an assessment point of view but we can always do planning in the background. The other is there is always the risk she is lying in a very exposed area and any storm that comes through could cause more damage. We just have to monitor it but there is very little we can do at the moment.
“The salvers will asses any damage, we will bring in naval architects who will start doing calculations to see what we need and to see any options to refloat her and they will come back to me with their proposals which we will then look at.”
A temporary exclusion zone of 300 metres has been implemented around the rig.
Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State’s representative for maritime and salvage continues to monitor the operations and is maintaining touch with all the key stakeholders, including Transocean, Smit Salvage, the Scottish Environment Group and Western Isles Council.