Lewis rig incident demonstrates need for emergency tug

The grounding of the Transocean Winner oil rig on Lewis shows the urgent need for an Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) in the Western Isles, the Highlands and Islands’ Green MSP John Finnie has said.

The Minch was served by a Stornoway-based tug until it was removed by Westminster cuts in 2012. Now just one ETV, the Orkney-based Herakles, serves both the Northern and Western Isles – and even its future is under threat, with the vessel receiving just a six-month extension to its funding when it was due to expire at the end of March.

Mr Finnie, who is the Scottish Greens’ transport spokesperson, has been calling for the restoration of an emergency tug to the Western Isles since it was scrapped four years ago. He has written to the UK’s new Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, asking for funding to be released to reinstate the Stornoway tug and secure the future of the Herakles as a matter of urgency.

Mr Finnie said:

“I am grateful that there were no personnel on board the Transocean Winner when it ran aground, and that therefore no-one was hurt. I also want to send my thanks to the Stornoway Coastguard and other responders, who have handled this disaster in tough weather conditions and while also responding to multiple other distress calls. However, we cannot yet know what the environmental damage may be, and there can be no guarantee that the next incident will pass without injuries or worse.

“This incident, along with the many others in recent years, demonstrates the urgent need for an emergency tug based in the Western Isles.

“The major inquiry held after the 1993 Braer disaster recommended as a priority that northwestern Scotland be provided with a strong emergency tug [2], and our seas have only got busier in the intervening three decades.

“Despite this, Westminster cuts abolished the Western Isles tug in 2012, leaving only the Orkney-based Herakles, which could take many hours to reach a vessel in distress in the Minch. Now even the Herakles is under threat, and we face the prospect of no dedicated emergency tug service in our northern waters at all.

“We are a maritime nation and as such it is government’s responsibility to ensure that our seas and our coast are adequately protected. I’m repeating my call to the UK Government: reinstate the Western Isles tug, and guarantee the future of the Orkney tug, before Scotland has to pay the price.

“In the longer term, it’s clear that Scotland itself has to take responsibility for safety in Scottish waters. Our seas are being poorly served by a Westminster government for whom the far north of Scotland might as well be the far end of the world.”