Council Leader maintains pressure on Government over ETVs

The Highland Council Leader, Margaret Davidson, gave a cautious welcome to the engagement of key stakeholders in talks with the MCA over the future protection of Highland’s coastal waters.  Only weeks away from the threatened withdrawal of the last remaining Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) in the UK,  she was joined by a wide range of interested parties all equally  determined to make the case for the Highlands and Islands to be properly protected.  The full day’s session was chaired by the Chief Executive of the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Sir Alan Massey KCB.  

The MCA shared a risk assessment that had been undertaken by the Counter Pollution & Salvage Unit of the MCA which showed that the withdrawal of the ETV would result in an increase in risk to unacceptable levels.  Participants were given the opportunity to review and revise the register in the light of their own knowledge of the marine and coastal and shipping environment and it was agreed to include a new risk related to the transportation of exotic nuclear materials by sea, through the narrow Minches, to Sellafield.  The conclusions of the risk assessment received unanimous support from the assembled parties and provided a context for two afternoon workshops looking at what could be done to mitigate the risk sufficiently to bring it down to acceptable levels.

The strong messages that came out of these sessions were that:

  • the UK Government had to accept that it had legal responsibility for coastal protection - however remote the location.
  • Stakeholders were committed to working collaboratively with the UK Government and welcomed the level of engagement being offered.
  • Time was too short to make sufficient progress and so the UK Government needed to agree an extension  to the lease on the tug to give time to agree a satisfactory medium to long term solution
  • The changing arena of the huge drop in production of oil and gas , increased transport of nuclear material from Dounreay and the increasing commercial traffic and renewable energy in the Pentland Firth and the Minch meant that risks were increasing, not diminishing.  The case for at least one dedicated ETV if not two, was even greater than when the current contract was agreed in 2011.

The Leader of the Highland Council said:

“I have been impressed by the level of engagement from the MCA.  I believe Sir Allan Massey is genuine in his desire to ensure the protection of our unique and precious coastal environment.  However, he is constrained by the UK Government’s spending priorities and we need to help him to make the case for the retention of the current ETV and the reinstatement of a second vessel in the Minches.  We face risks on an almost daily basis from extreme weather, treacherous coastlines, hazardous tides, the transportation of fuel and nuclear material and pilot error and to name but a few.  I am happy to explore a wide range of measures to help mitigate against these but, so far, I remain unconvinced that these will offset the danger posed by removing ETV capability altogether.  I would call on everyone who has a connection to the Highlands and Islands - whether environmental, economic or personal - to put pressure on the UK Government’s Department of Transport to make this the priority that we know it to be.”

Background:

The Stakeholder meeting was held at the Scotland Office, Melville Crescent, Edinburgh.  It was attended by representatives from:

The Highland Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council); Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council, Argyll and Bute Council,  The MCA, UK Dept for Transport, Scotland Office, Transport Scotland, Marine Scotland, SEPA, SNH, The Crown Estate, The Northern Lighthouse Board, The UK Chamber of Shipping, KIMO, Briggs Marine, Ardent Salvage, UKHMA, Caledonian Maritime Assets, the Dutch Government, GLA/Trinity House, The office of Drew Hendry MP.

12 Feb 2016
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