MP calls for emergency vessel west coast emergency towing cover

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Skye MP Ian Blackford has written to the UK transport minister Jo Johnson calling for the immediate re-instatement of an emergency towing vessel (ETV) in Stornoway to better cope with emergencies in Scotland’s coastal areas.

The calls come after two recent incidents on the West Coast.

Last weekend, Latvian registered CEG Universe suffered a stuck rudder in The Kylerhea Narrows. A disaster was only averted by the concerted efforts of Kyle and Mallaig lifeboats who held it in tow against the strong current until a tug operated by the nearby BUTEC base was able to join them and provide the force needed to pull it to safety.

In December, Norwegian cargo vessel, MV Fame suffered an engine failure off Taransay in gale force winds and eight metre waves. RNLI lifeboats from Stornoway and Leverburgh, together with the Coastguard helicopter were on scene quickly, but it was not until the next day that the ETV arrived from its base in Orkney, fighting through challenging conditions to reach the stricken vessel.

Luckily MV Fame had drifted clear of the rocks in the intervening period and a line was secured allowing it to be taken under tow with no injuries to crew. Three years ago this month another Norwegian vessel was not so fortunate, when in February 2015 it grounded off Kilchoan, spilling 25 tonnes of oil into the marine environment before being recovered two days later.

Ian Blackford said: ‘On two occasions disasters have been averted by lifeboat and other emergency services putting in a tremendous effort and also by a good deal of luck, with one ship drifting away from the rocks and in this latest incident being close to BUTEC facilities, who were able to provide a tug to pull the vessel to safety.

‘Had either of these ships been grounded they could have caused tremendous ecological damage to already fragile marine environments.  This is something we just cannot go on leaving to chance.

‘An emergency towing vessel, based within a short steaming time of the west coast is vital and I will continue to make the case for this.’

There is also concern that as these waterways are used for the transport of nuclear material from Caithness to Barrow in the north of England that serious pollution could occur before the ETV was able to arrive.