Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Cut-threatened Coastguard tug in action again

You don't need a coastguard tug for weeks and suddenly two emergencies come along at once.

Last week the Stornoway-based "Anglian Prince" was involved in pulling the £1bn nuclear-powered Astute submarine from a shingle bank in Kyle, today it may have to prove its worth again.

As I write the Stornoway Coastguard is co-ordinating the rescue of a cargo vessel drifting off the coast of the Isle of Rum.

The ‘Red Duchess’, a coal carrying merchant vessel, has suffered engine failure and is caught out in the Minch in south westerly winds of force 7–8.

The "Anglian Prince" based at Stornoway has been sent to the area, but is still some hours away. Meanwhile the Mallaig lifeboat has been launched and has a line on board in an attempt to arrest the ship’s drift.

The Coastguard rescue helicopter is moving to the location for any possible evacuation of crew if required.

Our brethren shield in danger's hour I hope, but the peril that the Red Duchess finds herself in proves again the need for Coastguard rescue tugs around the British coast.

The Anglian Prince is one of four Coastguard tugs that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has decided to cut as part of the comprehensive spending review.

My snouts tell me that the MCA, in their political naivety, put up the £5m a year running costs of the four tugs as a potential cut, thinking that the government would never accept anything so outrageous as removing the maritime and environmental insurance policy from Britain's coast

They hadn't reckoned on Mike Penning, the Tory transport Minister responsible for shipping, who said thanks very much and left the MCA reeling and the coast unprotected from September 2011.

Penning, MP for land-locked Hemel Hempstead, is standing by the decision and says it is not for taxpayers to fund salvage tugs.

He puts his faith in the private sector, demonstrating his scant knowledge of the shipping industry and flags of convenience vessels that ply the seas around Britain.

He said: “We need to look at the industry which is making its money out of the gas and oil fields,” he added. “They need to come up with a tug because they are the ones making all the profits and putting the environment at risk, not the UK Government.”

The tugs were introduced following Lord Donaldson’s report on the risks of coastal pollution after the Braer oil tanker spill off Shetland in 1993.

Although MCA figures show the Stornoway tug was deployed only five times and the Shetland vessel seven times between 2004 and 2009, the cost of not having them and facing the consequences of an oil spill or the loss of life is unquantifiable.

Politicians, despite how far up the ranking they go, rarely leave a lasting legacy behind them. I'm sure that Mike Penning wouldn't want, at the end of his parliamentary career, to be remembered as the Minister who could be responsible for a second Braer disaster.

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