LOCAL AUTHORITIES INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANISATION
Tuesday 19 December 2017
MV FAME INCIDENT HIGHLIGHTS LACK OF ETV PROVISION IN UK WATERS
The Norwegian cargo ship, MV Fame, lost power following an engine failure in stormy conditions off Taransay in the Western Isles on Thursday 14 December. The crew raised the alarm at about 5.30pm.
Sailing conditions were particularly treacherous with gale-force winds and swells of up to eight metres. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency dispatched a helicopter, based at Stornoway, and the RNLI dispatched the lifeboats stationed at Stornoway and Leverburgh to assist the MV Fame. Fortunately, the ship drifted clear of the rocks, and did not ground. The coastguard’s Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV), the ‘Ievoli Black’, arrived at the scene on Friday morning and established a tow under challenging conditions. The ETV set off with the MV Fame in tow at around 10 am on Friday. No injuries were reported.
KIMO believes that the MV Fame incident is of real concern, highlighting Scotland’s insufficient Emergency Towing Vessel provision. In the current instance, the grounding of the afflicted vessel was avoided solely by chance. Sixteen and a half hours elapsed between the MV Fame’s distress call and the commencement of the vessel’s tow to port. Most European nations set the standard for ETV response time at a maximum of four hours.
Scotland currently only has one dedicated ETV, which is stationed in Orkney. The area of sea around this part of the Western Isles, the deepwater channel known as The Minches, is one of the most treacherous around the British and Irish Isles. An accident involving an oil tanker, or a cargo ship transporting nuclear waste or other toxic substances could potentially be devastating for this sensitive ecological area. These risks are compounded by long ETV response times. Mariner safety is also put at risk by long ETV response times.
KIMO believes that ETVs provide essential risk mitigation in the protection of our coastlines from pollution arising from maritime incidents. The cost of maintaining ETVs will be repaid many times over if they are successful in preventing just a single vessel disablement becoming a major environmental disaster. The UK government maintains that the ETV provision gap can be plugged by using commercial towing vessels. Commercial tugs, however, do not have sufficient bollard pull to maintain a tow of a large vessel in extreme weather out in the open sea nor are they guaranteed to be available in the event of an emergency. As such, they are no substitute for dedicated ETVs.
After the tanker Braer spilled 85,000 tonnes of oil off the coast of Shetland in January 1993, and following the publication of Lord Donaldson’s report ‘Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas’, the UK Government deployed four ETVs around its coastline as part of a range of measures to reduce risks to an acceptable level. In September 2011 this was reduced to just one ETV for a fixed period of 90 days, stationed in Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. Intense lobbying by KIMO and local authorities resulted in the vessel being funded until the end of the UK government spending review (March 2015). The review concluded that retention of the vessel “was not a spending priority”, signalling its removal as of March 2016. Further intense lobbying by KIMO, Orkney, Shetland and Highlands Councils, and Highlands and Islands MPs and MSPs throughout 2015 resulted in a series of meetings with stakeholders in March 2016 to explore arrangements and funding to address the issue.
KIMO believes that a minimum of two fully-funded vessel of suitable capability are required to provide adequate protection to Scottish coastlines, particularly in light of the ongoing transport of exotic fuels from Dounreay to Sellafield and the planned transport of nuclear waste from Dounreay to the United States, which further increase the risk of a major pollution incident.
Therefore, KIMO calls upon the Scottish and U.K. governments to reinstate a second ETV in the Western Isles of Scotland and to ensure funding for the maintenance of adequate ETV provision into the future.
Notes to editors:
KIMO International (Local Government International Environmental Organisation) is an association of more than 70 local authorities representing 7 million citizens across seven countries with a Northern Seas coastline. Its aim is to protect, preserve and enhance Northern Europe’s marine environment and to work for safe and pollution free seas and coastlines for the benefit of our citizens. KIMO’s headquarters are located in Lerwick, Shetland.