Northern Isles MP, Alistair Carmichael, has used Transport Questions in the House of Commons to, once again, urge the Government to retain the emergency towing vessel in its full, present capacity beyond April 2016.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Carmichael said:
What recent representations he has received on the future of emergency towing vessels in the northern isles; and if he will make a statement.
I have received a number of representations from those in Scotland with an interest in the future provision of the emergency towing vessel operating from the northern isles. The Government fully recognise the importance of ensuring shipping activities off the coast of Scotland remain safe. To that end, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will consult interested parties shortly on the need for and scope of putting alternative towing arrangements in place beyond April 2016.
The Secretary of State will remember the interesting and lively discussions we had leading up to the decision to retain that emergency towing vessel in 2011. He will recall that the people in the MCA and in his Department who wanted to remove it then argued that cover could be provided by the offshore oil and gas industry working in the region. He will also be aware that the price of oil has fallen sharply since then and that there is now much less activity in the north North Sea. May I gently say to him that the case that led to the right decision in 2011 is even stronger today than it was then?
Just to put the record right, the conversations in 2011 that the right hon. Gentleman refers to were not held in the Department for Transport—they were held elsewhere. I very well remember both the case he made and visiting the vessel in the summer of 2013.
Commenting afterwards, Mr Carmichael said:
“I welcome the Transport Secretary’s statement that the MCA will consult with interested parties about the future of the towing vessel. This needs to be done quickly and they need to hear from local councils, harbour authorities, the oil industry and fishing communities who all have significant interests in retaining the vessel.
“I was disappointed that the Transport Secretary did not expand on his statement about ‘alternative towing arrangements’ being put in place in the event of the current contract not being renewed in April 2016. It is difficult to see what these alternative arrangements would be. As we all know, the offshore oil and gas industry is in a period of downturn and I do not believe there could be any reliable provision there.
“On the back of this exchange I have written to the Chief Executive of the MCA to seek an urgent meeting for him to tell me exactly what he is doing with regard to this service.”