SEA BREEZES FEBRUARY 2011 • VOL 85 • NO. 782
Following hard on the heels of the savage defence cuts, announced post the so called ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ (see Message From The Bridge, December 2010) comes the announcement that the Coalition Government will cancel the contract for the provision of the four Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs), presently deployed strategically round the UK coast.
The initial provision of emergency towing vessels, arose from recommendations made by Lord Donaldson, in his report, following an inquiry into major marine incidents including the tankers Braer, which grounded at Garth Ness (Shetland Islands in 1993) and Sea Empress which grounded off Milford Haven in 1996. Donaldson’s recommendation for the provision of standby tugs was accepted. Initially two tugs were deployed on a trial basis, but the arrangement became a permanent one and eventually the contract was for four ETVs.
The original safety and environmental reasons for this emergency towage provision were sound and remain so. The arrangement is a sensible one and a wise insurance policy. The decision to axe the provision of these tugs is all about cost saving, but surely at the expense of safety.
Another important maritime safety emergency arrangement under threat of the ‘chop’ is the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) – a group of 15 specialist fire and rescue teams around the UK coast. These teams (which include paramedics) can fly out by helicopter to ships at sea to support ships’ crews in fighting fires, chemical spillages etc. Ships crews do of course have basic fire fighting skills, but the MIRG teams bring professional and specialist skills to bear on these potentially dangerous situations. It seems another sensible maritime safety arrangement is to be sacrificed on the ‘altar of Cost saving’.
Just to rub further salt in the wound the Shipping Minister, Mike Penning MP, has announced proposals to reduce the number of full time Coastguard stations around the British coast from the present 18 to 8. As an example Scotland with its huge coastline could, under these proposals, end up with only one full time Coastguard station (at Aberdeen).
All the measures above, taken together, amount to a serious diminution in our ‘Safety At Sea’ and ‘Search and Rescue’ response procedures in the event of major incidents at sea. It will only take one or two serious incidents at sea to highlight these cuts as ill thought out, foolhardy and dangerous.
The cutting of the above two arrangements will diminish safety at sea around our coastline.
Taken with the attritional defence cuts and the resultant dilution of our Royal Navy in size and capability, the withdrawal of the ETVs and the possible scrapping of the MIRG have made the last few months a time of bleak news for our navies – Royal and Merchant .
Captain Hamish A C Ross (Editor)