Northern Isles Emergency Towing Vessel Saved

by Tom Morton -

Some call it a tug, but officially it’s an ETV - an Emergency Towing Vessel. And it’s not so much useful as essential to the offshore industries centred on Shetland - oil and gas exploration and production, the possibilities of offshore renewable energy, and of course fishing.

She’s called the Herakles, used to be known as the Anglian Prince, and is usually based off Orkney, but covers the waters around Shetland as well as south around the tip of the Scottish mainland. UK Government-funded, the contract to operate her (to the international company Marine Solutions) was due to run out at the end of September. A campaign to keep her has attracted widespread support in the Northern Isles and beyond. And now it’s been announced that the Herakles will continue to do her essenrtial job for a further five years.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill announced on 13 July - the day before the cabinet rehsuffle under new Prime Minister Theresa May - that the UK Government is to commit funding for the ETV. Earlier this year, he’d asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to look at alternative options for towing provision beyond September. It has been decided there is a strong case for the UK Government to step in to allow this vital service to continue.

Mr Goodwill said:

“The emergency towing vessel in Scotland saves lives and protects the Scottish coast from damaging pollution. I am delighted to confirm the UK Government has secured its future by providing funding for the next five years. This service is absolutely critical to ensuring emergency services can respond swiftly to incidents off the coast of Scotland. We have taken this decision following extensive consultation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. This is an important measure to ensure maritime safety and pollution prevention measures in the waters around Scotland.The MCA review concluded the commercial towage market cannot currently reliably meet the need for a dedicated service to cover the seas around Scotland. The vessel will help assist ships in difficulty and safeguard local communities and businesses against potential pollution incidents.”

Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell welcomed the news. “I am very pleased that the UK Government can guarantee the future funding of the emergency towing vessel stationed in the Northern Isles,” he said. “The islands councils have impressed upon us how important it is to maritime safety in the area. The UK Government has listened to what they have said, and is now able to secure the funding to maintain this vital safety vessel in the north of Scotland.”

The MCA consulted extensively with local stakeholders, industry and the Scottish Government. It will now start tendering for a new contract for a period of up to five years. Under the new contract, the MCA will seek to recover costs of the emergency towing vessel from the shipping industry wherever possible and, in the longer term, explore opportunities for the vessel to take on low-risk commercial work. Together these measures will reduce the overall cost to the taxpayer. Any costs recovered will go towards additional patrolling and crew training, which will further enhance maritime safety around Scotland.

Shetland Islands Council Leader Gary Robinson was also enthusiastic about the Government’s decision: “It is clearly good news that the government has agreed to honour its commitment to funding the presence of an ETV in the northern isles beyond September.

“It is critical that this emergency support continues, especially given the increase in shipping relating to the oil and gas industry and the severe conditions which can exist around our shores. We look forward to seeing more detail of the level of support which will be provided.”

Among other energy news over the past few weeks:

- CHC Helicopters has expanded its operations at Sumburgh, adding two S92 aircraft which will provide a new seven-days service to customers.

This is happening at the same time as a major airport renovation programme which will see £6.5m invested over three years by Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) Limited.

- Costain has won a contract at Total’s Shetland Gas Plant (SGP) for Total

for the construction of a hydrochloric acid dosing plant.

- Hurricane Energy has started drilling an exploratory well on the Lancaster discovery West of Shetland to assess its commercial potential.

- It was revealed that security systems installed at the Total Gas Plant under the auspices of security consultants Televigil include Perimeter Intruder Detection Systems (PIDS) with thermal imaging and Moving Image Separation Technology (MIST), originally developed for the defence sector and installed by Nessco; Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) installed by Avon Barrier Company and high security fencing installed by Allens Total Perimeter Security.