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A tug towing an oil rig which ran aground off Lewis last year was sailing too close to the shore, used a line in ‘poor condition’, and had ‘no contingency plan’ for stormy weather, a damning report has found.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluded its inquiry into the £20m Transocean Winner disaster last Wednesday, leading to calls for prosecutions from environmental charity Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Both Na h-Eileanan an Iar’s MP Angus MacNeil and MSP Alasdair Allan urged the return of an Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) to the West Coast.
The decommissioned Transocean Winner was being towed past the Hebrides from Norway to Malta by the Dutch registered tug ALP Forward last August, when the tow line was lost in rough weather. The semi-submersible 17,580 tonne rig grounded on Dalmore beach near Carloway on Lewis’ north west coast at 6.52am on August 8, until its removal for scrappage.
It sparked pollution fears due to the 280 tonnes of diesel on board, and two of its four fuel tanks were damaged, leaking 53,000 litres of fuel.
The MAIB’s inquiry found: ‘The effect of the wind and waves on Transocean Winner led to the loss of ALP Forward’s ability to control the direction and speed of the tug and tow. After being dragged backwards by the tow for over 24 hours, the tow line, weakened by the repeated sudden loadings, parted and the tug was unable to pick up the emergency towline.’
Dr Allan said he was ‘troubled’ by the report: ‘Although no lives were lost and there was no significant environmental damage, the incident served to point to the huge danger the island economy and environment would face, if ever a vessel carrying a large amount of hazardous cargo found herself in a similar position.
‘The report says that the decision by the master of the tug to leave Stavanger, given the weather forecast, was ‘borderline’ and that voyage planning “did not consider the effect of high winds”.
‘The report raises a number of worrying points, such as the lack of essential information, instruction or guidance in the towing vessel’s Towing Manual. This would have left the crew with insufficient information to carry out their duties, and the fact that the report says that ‘such arrangements may not be unusual in ocean towage’ is deeply worrying.
‘It also raises questions about why the nearest ETV was 12 hours away in Orkney, which will again reopen the debate about why the Maritime and Coastguard Agency removed the vessel from the West Coast in the first place.
‘It is clear the west coast remains at risk of future incidents occurring. Instead of seeing this incident as a wakeup call, the UK Government has so far been deaf to the collective calls for a second ETV based in the Western Isles.’
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it was ‘a very damning verdict, with terrible planning, poor information and damaged equipment all contributing to this very avoidable grounding. Clearly prosecutions should be taken against the companies involved. The UK and Scottish governments have spent considerable sums on rescue, monitoring and clean-up operations and Transocean and ALP need to repay this expenditure in full.’
The rig’s owner Transocean paid the Maritime and Coastguard Agency £400,000 of its bill for the operation on top of the £17m spent so far recovering it, with the final bill expected to reach £20m.
Transocean thanked all those who provided assistance and said the rig was recycled earlier this year. Regular inspections had detected no pollution on the beach or grounding site, it added.
ALP Maritime Services BV said: ‘We have received the report and are currently reviewing the findings and reasoning behind it. This will take some time and we will be able to comment once the review has been completed.’