The Leader of The Highland Council, Councillor Michael Foxley, has appealed to the UK Government to extend contracts for the emergency towing vessels based at Stornoway and Lerwick beyond September to allow discussions to continue on how the service can operate more efficiently and cost effectively.
Giving evidence in Stornoway to the UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee inquiry into the UK Government’s proposals to withdraw the Emergency Towing vessels, Councillor Foxley presented an alternative model for the Highlands and Islands, which focused on additional work and new support funding streams to enable the ETV fleet to be retained. These included: -
• Salvage - The contract between ETV provider and the MCA already has provision for a percentage share of the salvage monies from an emergency response to be paid to the MCA. The Government should look at increasing this percentage from 15% to 50%.
• Escort Duties – Consideration should be given to charging for escorting hazardous traffic through the Minches.
• Light Dues – Explore a modest increase in funding from Light Dues via the General Lighthouse Authority (It is understood that this is ring fenced for aids to navigation and is currently in surplus).
• Crown Estate – The Crown Estate has extensive marine assets throughout the UK, including over half of the foreshore and the entire seabed out to the 12 nautical miles limit, and to safeguard their future assets in renewable energy. In addition they also have extensive aquaculture interests with an annual rental income of £3m in Highland alone. It is clearly in their interests to maintain a safe marine environment and they should be asked to contribute towards the cost of an ETV.
• Alternative sources of UK Government public work - Explore options for alternative sources of public work undertaken by the UK Government (Customs, MOD Diving Support – Kyle, Hydrographic Surveys Northern Lighthouse Board).
• Alternative sources of Scottish Government public work - Also explore alternative sources of public work undertaken by the Scottish Government (Fisheries Research and protection, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency).
• Alternative Sources of Private Sector work - Marine Insurance companies probably suffer the largest financial loss from maritime incidents. These can include not only the loss of the vessel, but also the cost of the environmental clean up operation. Marine insurance companies whose vessels operate in the waters off the West Coast of Scotland should be asked to contribute to the provision of an ETV, as a long term cost saving measure. In addition the oil industry is currently operating fields off the West Coast of Scotland at Schiehallion, Foinaven and Clair oil fields. Consideration should be given to approaching these companies to make a contribution to the cost of the ETVs.
He said: “Commercial alternatives with similar capability are simply not available in the Highlands and Islands. However by developing an alternative model as I have outlined, the ETVs could still be provided in the Western Isles and Shetland at no or minimal cost to the UK Department of Transport. We would argue that the Department of Transport through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency should retain the lead role in the provision of the ETVs and in securing an alternative financial solution.
“We would strongly urge the Committee to recommend that the existing contracts for the ETVs in the Western isles and Shetland be extended temporarily to enable the UK Government to develop an alternative funding model based on the suggestions that have made.”
On the future of the Coastguard Service, he said the Council fully accepted the need to modernise and develop the Coastguard Service but it should be done on the basis of enhancing the level of service provided not reducing it and potentially putting lives at risk.
“”These proposals will result in one 24 hour station in Aberdeen and one operating only on daylight hours in either the Western Isles or Shetland. We are strongly of the view that to ensure effective resilience and have the ability to respond rapidly to an incident, it is absolutely critical that coastguard stations are located on both east and west coasts of Scotland and that they are operational on a 24 hours basis.
“For the MCA to suggest that having the second coastguard station operational only on daylight hours, when In the winter in the far north we have daylight for only a few hours shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation in the North of Scotland. I am aware that the Highlands and Islands Fire Board have submitted evidence to your committee expressing concern at the MCA proposals, including the withdrawal of the £30,000 support funding for the Marine Incident Response Group which would deal with maritime fires, which reduces the risk of ships running around, lost of life and pollution. This means this capability is in danger of being lost with the resultant increased risk.”