High drama off the coast of Harris in December, when the small Norwegian flag freighter Fame, long a familiar presence in Northern Scottish waters, lost all power and was at the mercy of steep seas in winds gusting to Storm 10.
She was a few miles offshore and was drifting fast toward a rocky shore which would mean the end for her, if she struck. Leverburgh and Stornoway lifeboats and a helicopter were standing by to take off the five crew, while the Italian flag chartered Coastguard tug, Ievoli Black, headed from Orkney around Cape Wrath at her best speed in the conditions.
Fame’s crew seem to have handled themselves well, buying time for the racing tug to save their ship by dropping both anchors to slow Fame’s drift. That can have been no mean task in the conditions, where keeping their feet on the heaving fo’csle rising and falling upto 25’ was an achievement in itself. Though it was very dark, a night vision camera showed the Fame bow on to punishing seas and her movement made the attachment of towing apparatus similarly diffi cult and time consuming. But secure they did and Fame was hauled away from danger and into sheltered waters.
There were claims that serious pollution could have resulted if Fame had stranded and, I dare say, both the ship’s fuel and her cargo would have triggered environmental problems. Fame had sailed from Stromness to deliver salmon feed to sites in the Hebrides. No doubt, the reason for so inconvenient a breakdown will be resolved by the ship’s crew and management in short order.
I have seen Fame on several occasions, especially freighting fi sh-farm materials. I witnessed her at Aberdeen and some years ago, saw her loading salmon feed at Hatston, Kirkwall. She always looked a smart well kept vessel, a typical handy sized Norwegian self unloader, ideal for working small harbours and narrow waters. And due to good work by both the crew and the tug, she may live to sail again.
Western Isles local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said the incident had posed a potential major pollution threat. Scotland used to have two emergency towing vessels (ETVs) available to the coastguard to cover the north and west coasts, before the UK government reduced the service to a single ship in 2012.
After the Fame incident, there was subsequently and, perhaps, inevitably a call for a second standby tug to be stationed in Scottish West Coast waters in addition to the Northern Isles where Ievoli Black is usually based. If money was no object then, presumably, that would quickly be forthcoming. But there is always a trade-off between safety and finance and I would be surprised if the authorities consider a second big high-tech expensive tug and crew on standby was justifiable.