The Highland Council has assured rescue staff in the Western Isles of its total support for the retention of a 24 x 7 coastguard service in Stornoway and the emergency towing vessel that patrols the Minches from its Stornoway base.
Council Leader Councillor Michael Foxley visited the Coastguard Rescue Centre in Stornoway to meet staff and offer the Council’s full backing for the campaign to maintain the current level of rescue services in the Minches.
Earlier, he was joined by Councillor John Laing, Chairman of The Highland Council’s Transport Environment and Community Services Committee, in taking part in a meeting of the Comhairle Nan Eiean Siar Coastguard Service Task Group in Stornoway also attended by local members of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss the draft submission from the Comhairle on preserving the 24 x 7 Coastguard Service in Stornoway and retaining the emergency towing vessel based at Stornoway. The submission together with oral evidence is due to be presented to the UK Parliamentary Transport Select Committee, which meets in Stornoway on 19 May.
A further Emergency Towing Vessel Review meeting for all Scottish stakeholders and other interested parties was due to be held at the MCA offices at Greenock onTuesday however this has been cancelled at short notice and will now take place on Wednesday 11 May. A Highland Council deputation will attend the stakeholder meeting to promote further exploration of viable funding alternatives such as the use of Light Dues, financial support from the Crown Estate and the use of the ETV by Marine Scotland for their maritime functions. Stakeholders are hopeful that finding alternative solutions and highlighting the fact that there are no viable commercial towing vessels on the west coast of the Highlands and Islands will earn a reprieve for the Scottish Emergency Towing Vessels.
Emergency Towing Vessels are used to protect the UK coastline from environmental incidents and protect the lives of seafarers during maritime incidents.
The UK Government’s funding for the current tugs operating in Stornoway and Shetland is scheduled to be removed from autumn of this year due to the high operational costs.
Councillor Foxley said: “I was keen to offer The Highland Council’s support for the retention of the current Coastguard service at Stornoway. We fully recognise the hugely important role the service provides in protecting commercial, military and leisure vessels, which get into difficulty around our rugged shores. This team knows their local units, their coastline and the deficiencies in the current AIS coverage. This knowledge saves lives. The tug, too, is absolutely vital to maintain safety in the Minches. It is clear that commercial alternatives are not available in the West of Scotland and given that the service is vital, an alternative model needs to be considered.”
Councillor Laing added: “Consideration must be given to exploring additional work and funding streams so as to minimise the cost to the public sector of retaining the tugs. We are working with our partners to identify a viable long term solution.”
The tugs could also attract work from the UK Government (Customs, MoD Diving Support, Hydrographic Surveys and the Northern Lighthouse Board) and the Scottish Government (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Marine Scotland, Fisheries Protection, Fisheries Research). Funding contributions could be attracted from the Crown Estate, marine insurance companies and the oil industry.