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Emergency Towing Vessels

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2012

The Scotland Office has been leading efforts to secure a long-term replacement for the emergency towing vessels (ETV) service in waters surrounding Scotland. The Government have listened carefully to all representations and reviewed the arguments put forward.

I am pleased to announce that the Government will continue funding of an emergency towing vessel for the duration of the spending review period. This commitment sits alongside our ongoing efforts to secure an additional vessel under a commercial call-out arrangement. The procurement process for the publicly funded vessel will be launched today and, if needed, further funding will be provided towards a temporary contract for a vessel until the longer-term arrangement is put in place. To ensure sufficient coverage across a wider spread of waters, the vessel will not be used habitually for passive escorts through the Minch, but could be tasked by HM Coastguard to undertake specific escort duties should they consider it necessary. Options for optimal stationing of the vessel will be sought from the market, however decisions on operational positioning and tasking will rest with HM Coastguard. This model is intended to ensure the best possible coverage across locations while accommodating practical considerations, in particular the distances involved, sea conditions and traffic density.

Combined with the host of significant technological advances and operational measures adopted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to enhance safety of shipping since publication of the 1994 Report by Lord Donaldson1, the Government are satisfied that this model will deliver a proportionate solution, balancing risk, operational considerations and value-for-money, including costs of an incident. I welcome the active participation of local authorities, including local harbour masters, who have assisted in this process, and we will continue to consult them on the detailed options available.

I remain very grateful to the companies who have participated actively in pursuit of a commercial call-out arrangement using oil industry vessels. This shows their commitment to corporate social responsibility, and I pay tribute to the efforts of Oil and Gas UK who facilitated this work. It is encouraging that considerable work has gone into preparation of suitable operational procedures, led by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and discussions remain underway with industry on the commercial framework.

11994: “Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas”: Report of Lord Donaldson’s Inquiry into the Prevention of Pollution by Merchant Shipping (Command Paper CM 2560).