Highlands & Islands

UK government extends coastguard tugs coverage

Anglian Sovereign. Pic: Simon Riley/MCA
Image caption Emergency tugs stationed around the UK coast were withdrawn to save money

Temporary coverage by two emergency tugs for Scottish waters will run until March 2012, the UK government has said.

Tugs hired to carry out Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) duties around the UK coastline were withdrawn earlier this year to save money.

Campaigns by councils and politicians saved tugs based on Lewis and Shetland.

Beyond March, the oil and gas industry has offered to support the MCA by deploying its chartered vessels in emergencies off the Northern Isles.

In October, an interim contract of three months was awarded by the UK government to Invergordon-based JP Knight.

The MCA said when that contract came to an end in January a new contract would be offered for tender until March.

Scotland Secretary Michael Moore said a long-term solution for the Western Isles and west Highlands had still to be agreed.

In a written statement, Mr Moore said: "I am pleased to confirm that the North Sea oil industry, led by Oil and Gas UK and its member companies, has indicated its willingness to offer support by establishing a call-off arrangement for their chartered vessels to be deployed in support of HM Coastguard in the event of an emergency.

"Detailed work is under way between operators, vessel owners and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on working practices and necessary protocols governing the arrangements."

'Invaluable service'

Western Isles Council - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar - has welcomed the decision to keep the tugs operating until March but warned that a long term solution was needed for the west Highlands.

Leader Angus Campbell said: "Scotland Secretary Michael Moore has identified the oil and gas industry as being part of the answer for the Northern Isles but that is not a solution for the western waters.

"There remains a lot of work to be done to put in place an appropriate provision.

"Otherwise, come March and the end of the contract, we will be increasing the risk for mariners and the environment. We will continue to work with government to find a long-term solution to this crucial issue."

Richard Lochhead, Rural Affairs and Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead, said the tugs provided an "invaluable service".

He added: "The most important thing now is that a workable, long-term solution is found.

"It is encouraging that discussions with Oil and Gas UK may lead to a permanent solution in the Northern Isles. And I hope that a solution can also be found to cover the Western Isles area."

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