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United front on campaign to retain emergency tug cover in Highlands and Islands (13/12/10)
Local councils in the Highlands and Islands are working together to present a united front to retain the two emergency towing vessels, which provide cover in the Northern Isles, Western Isles and West Highlands and are threatened with withdrawal next year.
Leaders of Shetland, Orkney, Highland and Western Isles Council have met to agree a strategy to retain the two vessels - based at Stornoway and the Fair Isle.
Councils agreed that time is of the essence and that they should work together to develop an action plan with a view to meeting with the Shipping Minister, Mike Penning MP, who is due to visit the Northern Isles in January.
The emergency towing vessels are provided by the Maritime Coastguard Agency as an emergency first response to vessels in distress by attending incidents and taking the distressed vessel under tow, thereby saving lives and preventing a major environmental incident.
They were introduced following a report by Lord Donaldson in the wake of the Braer Incident off Shetland.
Only two days after the UK Government announced in October it was withdrawing the tugs, The MCA tug from Stornoway was called in to help free the nuclear submarine HMS Astute from the seabed near the Skye Bridge.
Councillor John Laing, Chairman of The Highland Council’s Transport Environment and Community Services Committee, who chaired today’s meeting, said: “It is unthinkable that the Government should now be considering the withdrawal of these two lifeline services. The recent incident off Skye involving the nuclear submarine, HMS Astute, was a timely reminder of the hugely important role these tugs play. To lose the tug service could be disastrous.”
Councillor Michael Foxley, Leader of the Council’s Administration, added: “We fought long and hard to have a emergency tug protect our shores. The need is obvious and will be even greater with the development of offshore marine renewables. It is vital that these tugs are retained. We have a united front on this issue and will also be detailing other paid work that these tugs can do when on standby. “