Health and safety

UK coastguard urged to provide network of 'blue light' emergency towing vessels

19 August 2019

An international environmental organisation based in Shetland has called on the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to provide a 'comprehensive network' of emergency towing vessels (ETVs) around the whole of the UK coastline, while questioning the agency's current search and rescue capability.

In an open letter to MCA chief executive Brian Johnson, Municipalities for Sustainable Seas (KIMO) said that ETVs should be a 'blue light' service in line with other first response services.

The open letter was KIMO's second attempt to air its concerns over the recent Shipping Risk and Emergency Towage Provision Study commissioned by the MCA.

The organisation's first letter was sent to the MCA on 28 June 2019. It has not yet 'received a response that adequately addresses any of the key issues raised'.

Having been involved in the initial consultation for the report, KIMO said it was disappointed that it would be given 'no further opportunity to provide input or to have the opportunity to directly engage in the process before or after the final report', which will be submitted to ministers in October.

In its open letter KIMO said: 'The assessments carried out within the study focus only on the risk to shipping and the impacts on the environment but do not consider intercept times (the length of time it takes for an ETV to arrive at the scene of an incident).

'Since this is critical to the safeguarding of life at sea, KIMO believes that mechanisms and the mind set at Ministerial level for assessing the needs for maritime safety and emergencies must change  and that ETV provision should be considered a 'blue light' service in line with other first response services (such as police, fire and ambulance) which have response times set by Government.'

Highlighting the changing nature of the shipping industry around UK shores and therefore the heightened need for increased search and rescue capabilities KIMO, which has its International Secretariat in Shetland, said that according to Cruise Scotland, 825 cruise ships brought 794,500 passengers to ports around Scotland in 2018.

With such large amounts of traffic, KIMO fears that the coastguard is not equipped to handle a repeat of the Viking Sky2 incident in Norway on 23 March 2019. Following an engine failure, only 479 people out of 915 passengers and 458 crew were rescued in a 19-hour helicopter evacuation before the weather eased enough to get the vessel under tow.

And, less than a week after KIMO had voiced its concerns, the 30m long Oban registered fishing boat Coelleira was grounded on the Vee Skerries on its way to land fish that had been caught around Shetland.

Despite repeated attempts, the much larger and more powerful coastguard emergency towing vessel Ievoli Black was unable to refloat the Coelleira and the tug was subsequently moved to Lerwick.

As of August 11, the Coelleira was deemed unrecoverable and was to be drained of oil and fuel before being scuttled.

KIMO (Kommunenes Internasjonale Miljøorganisasjon) was founded in Denmark, in August 1990. It now represents members in Belgium, Denmark, The Faroe Islands, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.