Scottish Secretary Michael Moore will visit Lewis tomorrow (Tuesday) to discuss the future of the coastguard tugs.
He will meet with the Leader and Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and will also talk about renewable energy and the installation of the interconnector.
It has been reported that the tugs are to be given a three month stay of execution but this has not yet been formally confirmed by the UK Government.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Office said: “It was disappointing that the UK ETV Group couldn’t find a commercial solution before the expiry of the contract. The Secretary of State for Scotland believes that it is worth a final attempt and will lead efforts to secure a replacement. He will discuss interim arrangements with affected local authorities this week.”
The expected news of the three month extension has been welcomed by the Comhairle and local politicians but there are calls for clarity on what the long term outcome will be for the service.
Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell said: “This is excellent news and a very welcome development. The Comhairle is pleased that the Government has listened to the case we and our fellow members of the Task Group have been making. We look forward to working with Government, including the Scotland Office, to confirm the long term future for the tugs covering the Western and Northern seas of Scotland. There has been a considerable campaign both within and outwith Government and I would like to thank all those who have helped to achieve this common sense outcome.”
Angus MacNeil MP said: “At a time when the government at Westminster, can find £250million for bin collections, it seems that they are unable to deliver any more for the Highlands and Islands than a very short term package on coastal protection.”
Alasdair Allan MSP called for more information on the long term plans for the ETVs.
He said: ““The coastguard tug has been there for a reason on the west coast of Scotland, she is there to cope with the prospect of vessels going aground and to prevent human financial and environmental costs, which all of that implies.
“My colleague, Angus MacNeil, has very successfully raised this issue with UK Government and the news of a three month reprieve is welcome.
“I have now asked the Scottish Government to back the campaign for this reprieve to be made a permanent one and to lobby the UK Government hard about this pressing issue.
“Above all, perhaps, this whole episode has made the case for both coastguard centres and the coastguard tugs to be devolved from UK to Scottish control. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has had to be dissuaded from plans which would have seen the closure or downgrading of the Stornoway coastguard centre and now we are having to fight to maintain a coastguard towing vessel in an area where there are few, if any, commercial alternatives available.”