The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and KIMO International (an international local authority organisation working to protect and enhance the marine environment) are astounded to read that the UK Government attempted to encourage the oil company BP to pay for a second Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) in Scotland, rather than pay for its maintenance itself – a service it has duly cut.
The revelation comes from a Freedom of Information request which highlights correspondence from 2011 between Trevor Garlick, the now-retired BP North Sea President and the then Minister, and now Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell.
The warning from Mr Garlick came after the UK Government asked BP to provide emergency cover for the Minch shipping channel close by the Western Isles of Scotland. What is even more astounding about the request is that BP does not use this shipping route. In his response, Mr Garlick warns David Mundell that covering the Minch from their base of operations would mean 16-20 hours travel in the event of an emergency, and the Western Isles “therefore could not be serviced with anything other than a dedicated vessel”. (1)
NFLA and KIMO International completely agree with Mr Garlick / BP’s assertion. It remains a major safety concern that there is only one ETV for the whole of Scotland, and that is based at Orkney. The recent grounding of the ‘Transocean Winner’ rig off the beach at Dalmore, the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles showed the real dangers around the sea transportation of hazardous materials. In this incident, it took the only emergency towing vessel (ETV) in Scotland, Herakles, 18 hours to reach the scene, far too late to stop the rig running aground despite having been despatched more than 9 hours before the rigs towline broke free. (2)
At present, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s shipping arm, INS, is undertaking transports of highly radioactive materials deriving from Dounreay from the ports of Scrabster to Barrow for onward storage at Sellafield. Such transports are likely to follow a similar course through the Minch. The NDA have told the NFLA that they have written to the UK Government calling for a second ETV to be sited on the west coast of Scotland. (3) NFLA and KIMO remain highly concerned of the problems that could occur if such shipments got into trouble through the Minch shipping channel without a second ETV being available.
NFLA and KIMO Chairs are writing to David Mundell seeking answers as to why he asked BP to fund a second ETV. It is essential a second ETV is resumed, but it should be paid for by the UK Government and be reinstated forthwith.
KIMO Senior Vice President and NFLA Steering Committee Vice-Chair, local councillor Norman McDonald said:
I am alarmed to hear that, despite consistent calls from KIMO and the NFLA for the restoration of a second ETV to cover the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland, the Government should have been going cap in hand to BP five years ago to maintain this service. The Transocean Winner incident showed the urgent public and environmental safety case for a second ETV. The financial cost of a second ETV would be much less than dealing with an oil spill or radioactive material spill from an accident in the Minch shipping channel. Instead of asking BP for help the Government should as a matter of urgency restore funding for a second ETV and bring back the service forthwith.”
NFLA Scotland Convener Councillor Bill Butler added:
I am astounded to read that essential marine public safety in Scotland is determined more by the ability of BP to pay for a service they would never use than by the actual critical necessity of an ETV being required for the west of Scotland. David Mundell has a lot to answer for with this issue. As Scotland’s representative in the UK Government it is his responsibility to ensure marine safety is secure. I urge Mundell to restore the second ETV immediately. I dread to think what the consequences would be of a major accident of a Sellafield bound radwaste tanker or of a decommissioned oil rig. The Government must act now and restore this critical service.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244 or 07771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) Scottish Energy News, 24th October 2016
(2) NFLA / KIMO joint media release, 16th August 2016
(3) Reported by NDA representatives to a meeting with the NFLA Scotland Forum in Glasgow City Chambers, 3rd June 2016.