Reinstating an Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) on the West Coast of Scotland is the only way to ensure marine safety, stressed Isles SNP MPs during a heated debate at the House of Commons on Monday.
An adjournment debate, secured by Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and supported by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus B MacNeil, called on the UK Government to scrap plans to remove the only existing ETV in Orkney and reinstate the Stornoway vessel.
The ETV in Stornoway was removed in 2011 as a cost cutting exercise by the UK Government. This was opposed strongly by Mr MacNeil and local agencies who argued this left the West Coast vulnerable in the event of an emergency at sea which could endanger life and lead to environmental damage.
Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Robert Goodwill MP, announced that he would extend the Government funded ETV at Orkney until September and conceded that the time scale for that ETV to get to an incident in the Western Isles and beyond would need to be addressed.
Speaking during the debate, Mr MacNeil said it was absolutely vital to have ETVs to protect the West Coast in the event of an incident like the Braer disaster in Shetland.
He said: “The UK Government are playing fast and loose because of an event that might happen once in 25 years, once in 50 years or once in 100 years. They have no insurance policy because they are a penny-wise pound-foolish Government who are playing fast and loose with the Scottish Coastline.”
In response to Mr Goodwill’s comments that it was not appropriate for the UK Government to fund tug provision where it could be provided by the private sector, Mr MacNeil pointed out that this was not available on the West Coast.
He added that at the time of the debate, according to a Marine Traffic app, an 11,000 tonne oil and chemical tanker was currently steaming up the Minch, between South Uist and Skye and that due to the lack of an ETV, there was no insurance policy for that vessel.
Secretary of State Mr Goodwill MP said he was working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to come up with a cost effective long term strategy. He said he would make a final decision on the future funding of ETVs in September.
Mr Blackford MP and Mr MacNeil MP together with their SNP colleagues will continue to press this issue.
Mr MacNeil said: “The Government are making a u-turn (extension of funds for Orkney ETV) but I hope they carry on steaming further south and think of the Hebrides and the west coast too.”