SNP Westminster Transport spokesperson and MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil has warned that UK Government cuts to emergency towing vessels will put lives at risk after a Dutch ship ran aground on North Uist last night, just days after the UK Government had withdrawn tugboat services from the Hebrides.

MV Flinterspirit, which was carrying a cargo of steel and wood, ran aground late last night and, after refloating several hours later, was escorted to Stornoway by the Barra and Stornoway Lifeboats.

Last autumn the UK Transport Select Committee urged the Coalition Government to think again about its plans to get rid of emergency tugs.

Mr MacNeil said:

“The grounding of the Flinterspirit underlines the real risks that shipping face in these waters just days after the coastguard tug was removed from the Minch. We are only one incident away from tragedy and the UK Government is putting lives at risk.

“The Transport Select Committee condemned the removal of the tugs and called on Ministers to think again.  I called on the UK government to undertake a risk assessment on the impact and to abandon plans to remove these vessels.  Local authorities have also strenuously lobbied the UK government, but UK Ministers have not listened.

“These vessels provide an essential service – let’s not forget it was a tugboat that, last year, rescued the stranded submarine, HMS Astute when, to the embarrassment of the UK Government, the most expensive and technologically advanced submarine in the world has had to be pulled to safety by the tugboat which the Westminster government have now scrapped.

“It is only when a major event happens, such as this, that the value of the stand-by tug is realised.  Huge oil tankers pass east and west of the Hebrides daily, and every few years a nuclear submarine seems to go aground – we can’t afford to lose the tug.

“Our coastline has been left vulnerable by the removal of these emergency services, and this reckless decision must be reversed.”

ENDS