OIL giant BP is to bankroll a boat to provide emergency tug cover for major incidents in the waters around the Northern Isles.
• Vessel will provide support in case of emergency incidents
• Currently only one support boat - the Herakles - which is stationed on Orkney
• Emergency cover had first been provided in the wake of the Braer oil spill in 1993
In a groundbreaking deal, the oil major has agreed to allow the Coastguard to call on a BP-chartered vessel to provide support in the event of a pollution incident.
The Grampian Frontier will provide back-up for the UK’s only remaining dedicated emergency tug, the Herakles, which is already stationed on Orkney.
In 2010 the UK coalition government sparked an outcry when ministers announced the removal of all four emergency towing vessels patrolling the UK coastline in a bid to save about £30 million. The emergency cover had first been provided in the wake of the Braer oil spill disaster off Shetland in 1993.
A high-profile campaign in the Northern and Western isles led to the announcement last July that the Herakles would be retained to provide cover for Scotland’s islands and north-west coast.
But, in a new agreement with the oil industry, the Grampian Frontier, an emergency response and rescue vessel currently operating in the waters west of Shetland, will also be released to respond to any pollution incident in the area.
A government spokesman said: “The vessel’s owner, North Star Shipping, is working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency [MCA] to ensure that the crew and equipment are able to respond. The involvement of the Frontier builds on the UK Government’s commitment last year to fund an Emergency Towing Vessel in waters around Scotland for the duration of the current Spending Review.
“As a signal of their commitment to the industry scheme, BP also announced that it is investing up to $250,000 [£160,000] towards new towing equipment to upgrade its fleet of Caledonian regional support vessels. This investment will enhance their ability to also respond in the event of an incident.”
Michael Moore, the Secretary of State for Scotland, said: “This is the first agreement of its kind in the UK, and I would like to thank BP and North Star for their commitment and enthusiasm for this work.
“This is a powerful signal of their support for counter-pollution and they are setting a great example to the wider industry. I am hopeful that other companies will follow suit and register their vessels for the scheme.”
The new agreement was officially signed yesterday at Aberdeen harbour. Trevor Garlick, BP’s regional president, said: “BP and North Star are pleased to be able to offer assistance to the government regarding the provision of emergency towing capability.
“BP has had a major presence in the Shetland region for many decades and is investing significantly to develop its business there.”
Oonagh Werngren, Oil and Gas UK‘s operations director, welcomed the agreement. She said: “BP’s agreement today that it will volunteer the Grampian Frontier vessel to help in an emergency should the MCA deem it appropriate is very welcome.”
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “The availability of an extra boat in the Northern Isles is an assurance that coastal protection is important to the Government. And this is also rather better value for money for the taxpayer.”
Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland, said: “While our preference has always been for at least two, permanent, government-backed vessels, this announcement will go some way to reducing the risk of future environmental disasters like the Braer.”