The UK government is determined to press ahead with the decision to withdraw emergency towing vessels (ETVs) which are currently on station around British coasts.
The Director of Maritime Services at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has confirmed that ETV provision will cease in November 2011. The move comes despite the fact that only days after the Celtic League raised the issue a serious incident with a British nuclear submarine resulted in a request for ETV assistance.
MCA Chief, Phillip Naylor, says that he understands and shares the concern of the Celtic League (see below) but fiscal constraints are driving the issue.
There is to be a consultation period and it is vitally important that political, environmental and industry support is mobilised to have this serious policy change reversed.
The full text of the MCA letter is set out below:
“8th November 2010
Dear Mr Moffatt
Thank you for your letter of 2 October to the Secretary of State about the decision not to provide emergency towing vessels (ETVs) at public expense once the current contract let by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) expires in September 2011. Your letter has been passed to the MCA to reply.
I understand and share your concerns about safety, particularly given the memories of the BRAER and SEA EMPRESS incidents. I hope that you will appreciate that the need to reduce the fiscal deficit has forced us to look carefully at all areas of our spending, and the Government has needed to take difficult decisions about areas of work that should no longer be funded from the public purse.
The maritime world has changed since we first introduced year-round ETV cover, with many of the changes reflecting the resolution that your organisation adopted at Plomeur in 1996 e.g: ship navigation systems have improved; new ships’ routeing and reporting systems have been introduced in some locations; automatic identification systems are now a mandatory requirement for ships over 300gt; much improved shore-based tracking and monitoring arrangements are in place; and of course the European Union has developed successive packages of measures to improve maritime safety including the requirement for double hull tankers and mandatory vessel reporting.
ETVs were an important part of the maritime assurance picture at their inception although they have only ever been one part of a broader strategy for supporting ships in difficulty, but they have never been a guarantee of absolute safety, even in the four areas where they have been stationed. Whether they have been involved in incidents has been determined by factors including geography and weather, and it is encouraging that in the past five years ETVs have been deployed relatively rarely in emergency situations.
Fundamentally, we take the view that it is the responsibility of ship owners and operators to protect their interests by engaging commercial tugs and salvors when their ships get into difficulty. The Government therefore concluded that extending the current ETV contract beyond September 2011 is no longer an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.
Let me assure you, however, that between now and next September, we intend to work with the shipping and wider maritime industries, and also with local interested parties, to facilitate discussions about how commercial tug and salvage arrangements could operate in the future. I hope that you will feel able to give the Agency the benefit of your advice as part of that ongoing dialogue.
Director of Maritime Services”
Related links on Celtic News here:
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information