Examination of Witnesses (Questions 433-459)
Q433 Chair: Good
afternoon, gentlemen. I apologise for keeping you waiting, but
I think you have been listening to the previous session and I
am sure you will forgive us in the circumstances. Perhaps you
would give your names and the organisations you represent for
My name is Robert Paterson. I am Health and Safety Director with
Oil and Gas UK. Our member companies are organisations that explore
or produce oil and gas in the North Sea.
Tom Piper: I
am Tom Piper. I work for KIMO UK. I represent local authorities
on marine pollution matters.
I am Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar. Just
so you are sure of the language, that is the Western Isles Council.
I am also Chairman of the coastguard group for the Outer Hebrides.
Perhaps I may thank you on behalf of the highlands and islands
for bringing this matter to this part of the world. We are very
appreciative of that.
Cllr Foxley: I
am Michael Foxley, Leader of the Highland Council. Like Angus,
on behalf of the council we are very pleased that you have come
up to hear first hand the information. It is also relevant to
this inquiry that since the late 1980s I co-chaired the tanker
traffic in the Minches working group. We were seriously concerned
about the passage of hazardous cargoes and vessels through the
Minches, so we are looking at things like pilotage, ETVs prior
to the Braer and Donaldson, compulsory shipping lanes, etc. That
was the work of the working group.
Cllr Wills: I am
Jonathan Wills. I am an independent councillor on Shetland Islands
Council for the port of Lerwick. I am also a member of the MCA's
Shetland marine safety subcommittee in my capacity as a
commercial tourist boat operator. I spent 20 years as a local
journalist covering hundreds of coastguard incidents.
Q434 Chair: Councillor
Campbell, in the written evidence you have given us you describe
the combination of proposals that have been put in front of us
as "dangerously reckless". Why is that your view?
That was not a term used lightly; it was used because we did an
awful lot of work and research into the effect of the proposals
as they would impact on this area. It is undoubted that, if you
look at the withdrawal of the coastguard alone, that will increase
the risk to these islands, added to the other proposals that are
happening at the same time: the unilateral withdrawal of the ETV,
the withdrawal of the fire rescue group without any consultation,
and the fact that the Nimrods, which are part of safety here,
have already gone. The question that we asked the MCA and the
civil servants who came up here the first time was: what risk
assessment had been made of the cumulative effect of all these
things. There was a deafening silence in the room. They looked
at each other and eventually we got the answer that risk underpinned
a lot of the work they did anyway. But we believe as a group
that there was no work to look at the risk assessment of the cumulative
effect of all these things, far less a risk assessment being done
properly and in a logical way on the effect of the Coastguard
Service moving to the new model that they showed. Therefore,
it was not used lightly. Along with our colleagues in Shetland,
we also commissioned a respected commercial company to do a marine
risk assessment of the proposals. It is not us as politicians
saying this; we are saying it on the basis of professional evidence
Q435 Chair: What
was the result of the risk assessment that you commissioned?
It showed quite clearly that the risk was increasing greatly,
that the aspects that had been talked about in terms of the usage
and type of incidents had not been looked at, and that the cumulative
effect of that was to put our communities in great danger.
Q436 Iain Stewart:
Cllr Campbell, I read the council's recent evidence. You note
in paragraph 1.7: "From discussion with senior MCA officials
it would appear that proposals are driven by a mix of internal
MCA issues such as resolving industrial relations; resolving lease
issues arising from particular stations and as a matter for the
MCA to realise value from particular saleable assets." Could
you expand on that, please?
We asked several questions, first why some stations and not others
had been picked. One of the reasons given to us was that they
were tied into commercial leases and they were not able to get
out of them without a certain cost. They also said they had other
properties that they felt could realise a value fairly easily
if they went on the market. For us that is not a reason for choosing
whether you have a safe system in place to protect mariners and
the environment. Those were direct answers to questions that
we put to MCA and the civil servants who were up here. We feel
that it is being driven by the wrong reasons. Another aspect
that we looked at, for instance, was enhancement of the capacity
within the station here. It is there already; there is no extra
cost. The running costs of the station in the Outer Hebrides
are a lot less than they are elsewhere. To base decisions for
safety and the marine environment on these sorts of issues raised
alarm bells with us as a community and as a group. That is one
reason we asked a professional company to look into what was behind
Q437 Iain Stewart:
I also read with interest your alternative model for locations
around the United Kingdom. It is very similar to a proposal we
received on our visit to Falmouth yesterday. I am just wondering
whether that is a happy coincidence. The plans are not identical
but very similar. Have you collaborated with them at all, or
have you reached similar conclusions in effect?
As a group we have had no contact with Falmouth. What we have
done as a group is coordinate very much with local coastguards,
but also across the highlands and islands as local authorities
and as groups we have worked very closely together. We were concerned
at the beginning when there was talk of an and/or situation; that
is, Shetland or Stornoway. I think that was a red herring to
distract us. Even the winner would end up with a false dawn because
it would not provide the service we need. We tried to work professionally
and coherently across the highlands and islands to come up with
good answers, but to my knowledge we have had no contact with
Falmouth as a group.
Cllr Wills: To
follow up Angus's point, we are not defending a local interest;
it is not either a Stornoway or Lerwick/Shetland interest but
a national interest. What is at risk is a national interest out
there. We have heard about the oil and fishing industries and
the tourist industry. This is not a small local issue at all;
and it is not between Stornoway and Shetland, because it is physically
impossible to do without either station. The distance between
the southern end of the Stornoway area to the northern end of
the Shetland area is longer than the distance from London to Aberdeen.
And from Stornoway to Lerwick is further than London to Newcastle.
This is very much a national issue.
I would like to comment in the same context on the
idea of daylight operation. It is nearly June. Shetland is 60
degrees north; it is the same latitude as the southern tip of
Greenland. There are 19 hours of daylight a day at present, plus
five hours of civil twilight; it is never dark. In six months'
time there will be six hours of official daylight and 18 hours
of darkness. How will you staff that? My argument is that this
is not competent. This is a wonderful opportunity to get a good
new scheme for the coastguards. It is completely incompetent.
What they are doing is taking down, degrading and dismantling
key components of a system that works at present. To do that
is to abdicate Government's central responsibilities to preserve
public safety and the environment, not just in Orkney, Shetland
and the Western Isles and the Highland region but the whole nation.
I am sorry; I get quite carried away by these things.
Chair: You are here to
tell us your views. That is why we are here to listen to you.
Q438 Julian Sturdy:
I want to touch on the ETVs, emergency towing vehicles. We have
heard this morning about the fact that there would be no option
for commercial tugs in the area to take on any of the work that
the emergency towing vehicles do at the moment. That seems to
be more the case here than in Falmouth. I put a question to Mr
Paterson and Mr Piper. Given your expertise in health and
safety and the environment, what impact will taking this vessel
away have on the area?
For a start, my member companies do not operate tankers, so I
have no particular maritime experience to answer your question.
It was an area about which we did have concern. We looked at
the consultative document and saw that these vessels had not been
properly considered. A number of other things had not been properly
considered: the Nimrods, which have already been mentioned; the
closure of the Moray air bases; and the SAR helicopter procurement
exercise. All these things have never been factored in. We are
very concerned that this consultative document does not take into
account a number of key issues that ought to have been built into
Tom Piper: I think
that if an ETV was removed and was not able to intervene, from
the point of view of pollution many businesses from tourism to
fisheriesall that sort of thingwould be destroyed
in a moment and there would be a big environmental disaster.
An ETV is designed to intervene. The economies in this part of
the world rely on that sort of industry. We do not have big IT
businesses and what have you. The serious money in this part
of the world comes from tourism, fisheries and that sort of thing.
Q439 Julian Sturdy:
Do you say it is vital not only from an environmental but economic
point of view as a matter of security? I put that question to
Chair: Cllr Foxley, what
is your view?
Cllr Foxley: I
wonder whether you would allow me to respond to that question
by providing literally some colour to the ETV argument. I have
some colour photographs. Perhaps you would allow me to pass them
to the Committee so I can talk to them.
Q440 Chair: You
can pass them but they are not in our record.
Cllr Foxley: You
can leave them behind.
Q441 Chair: We
will keep them, but could you talk about them as well?
Cllr Foxley: Absolutely.
Perhaps Jonathan would pass them to the clerk. We are concerned
about the potential for serious incidents involving tanker traffic
within the Minches in particular. We were doing a lot of campaigning
work prior to Donaldson finally achieving that. I do not want
to go through the whole of the file but use three incidents that
have occurred in the last eight months to prove why ETVs are critical
and it is essential that they stay. They are all fairly close
to where I live and work from on the west coast. The first involved
a boat called the Yeoman Bontrup at Glensanda, just down the loch
from me. It is spectacularly on fire in the berthage at that
deep-water port. It is the biggest super-quarry in Britain, which
used to be run by Foster Yeoman. The fire was put out by the
Anglian Sovereign, which had unique fire-fighting capacity to
do that. Had the fire not been put out it would have sunk at
the berth. If that had happened, according to the previous managing
director of the company, which exports 7 million tonnes of granite
a year, it would have put that super-quarry out of operation for
three months, with major economic implications for the country.
That follows on from what Jonathan said about the national interest.
Nobody else could have put out that fire within two days' steaming
time, had they been available in the North Sea.
The second incident to which I want to add a
bit of colour, and this was referred to earlier by the lady from
the coastguard, involved the Red Duchess. I was a councillor
for Rum for a long time. It is knee-deep in nature conservation
designations and special areas of conservation. It has at least
nine SSSIs. As she described very adequately, the Red Duchess
was prevented from ending up on Rum by the Mallaig lifeboat and
then towed off by the Anglian Prince. It would have had serious
environmental consequences for Rum had she hit the shore.
The third incident, which is on the second dog-eared
page of the photo file, which I am sure you will have read about
in the national press, involved the sadly named HMS Astute, which
went aground off Kyle. The relevance of that incident, which was
quite spectacular, is that since then we have discovered that
the Ministry of Defence was not involved in a risk assessment
of the removal of the ETVs in terms of the exercises that they
regularly carry out on the west coast. Indeed, an exercise is
currently under way to the west of Shetland. There are major
bases, as you knowa torpedo range in Kyle and also Faslane.
Those are three incidents just in the last eight months that
show the vital importance of that ETV.
My colleagues and I have now been at two meetings
arranged by the Marine Coastguard Agency, one in Edinburgh two
months ago and one in Greenock just last week. Everybody in the
room representing UK shipping, local authorities and salvage tugs,
have agreed two things: first, that the ETVs are essential. The
second thing they have agreed unanimously, with the exception
of the MCA senior management reps presentthey keep talking
about the perception of risk despite these photographsis
that there is no commercial alternative. The nearest alternative
is at least a day to a day and a half's sailing time away, if
they are available and they are not close to the Norwegian coast
and they are not already involved in a commercial contract.
Q442 Chair: Who
was it that agreed that at the meeting you referred to? Who decided
that it could not be done in any other way?
Cllr Foxley: I
can provide a list to the clerk. We had workshops involving representatives.
The one last week in Greenock involved representatives from throughout
the UK: shipping and tug interests; salvage interests; insurance
interests, as well as local authority interest, in this case both
from England and Scotland. Nobody in the workshops in the room
thought there were commercial alternatives available.
Cllr Wills: Perhaps
I may refer you to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's own document
of November 2008, which I have here, entitled "Emergency
Towing vessels: Assessment of Requirements". It says specifically,
"There is no commercially available emergency rescue service."
It makes all the points for keeping an ETV. The only thing that
has changed since then is that it looks as though the cost of
renewing the contract is a lot more than they thought, but none
of the parameters in the argument has changed. I am sure you
have a copy of this, but if not you are welcome to mine.
Cllr Foxley: To
add to that briefly, the argument that the MCA proposed for an
alternative was use of the harbour tugs, but these are small tugs
working usually in very good conditions in harbours with a 40-tonne
bollard pull. The ETVs have up to 170-tonne bollard pull, so
the vessels involved at Glensanda and off Rum had the requirements
to survive extreme weather conditions, force 7 in the case
of the incident off Rum, and also serious bollard pull. That
alternative is not available. To my surprise, looking at the
entire west coast of the UK this is the only one; it is not in
Merseyside, Bristol or the Clyde.
Cllr Wills: In
that context, my council is the port authority for Sullom Voe
oil terminal. We also own the tug company. Our tugs are brand
new and state of the art, but they do not have ocean towage capability.
It is not just bollard pull, which as Michael says is part of
it, but how much and what kind of wire you can store in the big
drum on the back. Our tugs are not set up for ocean towing bridles
of maybe a mile or half a mile long; they are set up to tow tankers
in port, and they are very good for that job. They are not multi-purpose
tugs, unlike an ETV.
Q443 Julian Sturdy:
One last follow-up question on that. Thank you, that is very
informative. You talk about bollard pull and the power of the
tug and the lack of power in other areas that will be needed.
I do not know whether you can answer this question. Are commercial
tankers and cargo vessels getting larger? Is that happening with
the new vessels coming on stream?
Cllr Wills: I can
answer that. The trend is for tankers to become slightly smaller.
We no longer have many of the super-max tankers; they are mostly
what are called panamax vessels of about 100,000 tonnes. The
product tankers, as distinct from crude tankers, are tending to
get bigger. The vessels that are really getting bigger are cruise
ships and container ships, for example the Napoli, which again
was saved by an ETV off the south coast of England.
To follow through on that, in the last week there was an incident
involving the cruise ship Opera, which had 900-odd people aboard
and was saved only because of the availability of a tug. At the
time the Astute went aground, as a local authority we did a desktop
exercise to see where the nearest tug would have been. That was
in Aberdeen, which was nearly a day's steaming away. If that
had been a cruise ship sitting with 1,000 people aboard, do we
not have a responsibility for some safety mechanism to deal with
that situation? As everyone said, the number of cruise ships
is increasing greatly. The numbers quoted were for those coming
into port, but there is an awful lot of cruise ships travelling
up and down the Minch to other destinations. That responsibility
lies there, I think, and we have to look at that.
Tom Piper: The
justification we received from the DfT for removing the ETVs focused
solely on the amount of oil they may have prevented from being
spilled. In the principles set out by Lord Donaldson's report,
it is not there just for oil; it is there for all sorts of nontoxic
pollution, which, although it may not destroy whole ecosystems,
would cost millions to tidy up. There are also fire-fighting
capabilities and cruise liners. So, the only justification that
has not been properly risk assessed, and certainly not consulted
on, is just a couple of pages about how much oil spillage may
have been prevented. It is a much wider issue than just oil.
Q444 Paul Maynard:
We have already heard today about how the nature of the economy
has changed in recent years. It is now 17 years since the Braer
accident. Can you say how the economy has changed even in those
17 years, and if a similar accident occurred now, would the impact
on the economy be the same as the Brayer or potentially more damaging?
I am trying to get some quantitative idea.
Tom Piper: I do
not think you can relate it directly to the economy. If you look
at the history of incidents involving oil spills in particular,
some cost tens of millions to tidy up; some cost in excess of
Q445 Paul Maynard:
I am thinking in terms of the economy though. Perhaps I may ask
the council leaders. Are you now more dependent upon agriculture
The aquaculture sector has continued to grow in size. It is a
very important part of the rural economy of these islands. Marine
and environmental tourism has grown greatly over the last few
years. With that we have had more evident designations. For
instance, in Kilda we have a double world heritage site. We have
talked about the cruise ships, which add to the economy; that
is apparent in itself. Even this week you have seen announcements
about marine technology and where renewables are going. An increasing
amount of work that will take place both in the Minch and off
the west coasts of the Hebrides and the Shetlands will inevitably
bring much more traffic to that area. It is inevitable because
we have the best resource; it is inevitable because if the country
wants to meets its renewable targets, it has to start accessing
that. All these economic factors will bring increased activity
and so increased risk, all of which makes the case for having
the proper coastguard and tug coverage.
Q446 Paul Maynard:
And the preventative justification for ETVs will therefore increase?
Absolutely in my mind.
Cllr Foxley: Without
repeating what Angus has said, on tourism the British Waterways
Board is very actively marketing the Caledonian canal. There
is now a very substantial number of yachts coming across from
Scandinavia in particular. People also go sea kayaking. I would
like to expand on the point you made about renewables. The seas
are becoming much more congested and there is less sea room for
manoeuvre. So far 47 gigawatts of marine renewables have
been approved in the three rounds in Scottish territorial waters.
Those are approvals of offshore wind. It will change with time
but, based on 5 megawatts, that is almost 10,000 offshore wind
turbines off the coast. Tidal schemes have already been granted
in the more sheltered parts of the Pentland Firth, if I may put
it that way, and also near Glenelg. I should have said earlier
that the leader of Orkney Islands Council is unable to be here,
but this is joint action. The Highlands and Islands meet regularly
every three to four weeks; there is a coordinated view on all
of this. In terms of marine renewables, one of the potential
funding streams to maintain ETVs is from the Crown Estate. That
is not just because they gain £5 million a year from
aquaculture and fish farming in the Highlands and Islands; that
is because they will accrue substantial revenues from offshore
renewables. To protect their income streams and safeguard their
own interests, they should contribute to maintaining these ETVs.
Cllr Wills: I wrote
a book about the Braer, so I will not deive you with my opinion
on it. Just briefly, Mr Maynard's question specifically mentioned
the Braer. She was carrying twice as much oil as the Exxon Valdez
and she lost twice as much as that vessel. It was a different
kind of oil; it was very light. Had it been typical North Sea
heavier crude it would have been catastrophic in January. If
something like that happened in the sea bird breeding season you
can forget bringing BBC television crews up to film the gannets.
Nobody would be interested in coming for years. It would be
a complete economic disaster for tourism, seafood and so on.
All the evidence of what happens after oil disasters, from Torrey
Canyon, through Amoco Cadiz, Sea Empress and the Braer and everything
else, is that you get massive damage to industries that rely on
a pristine environment, tourism and the seafood industry, and
also just the reputation of an area, which is damaged for a very
long time. We have also learnt that compensation is late, grudging
and always inadequate. Of course, if you have a blowout west
of here, which is why we are having the exercise, there is no
legally enforceable insurance cover or compensation agreement.
Q447 Mr Leech:
I should like to return briefly to ETVs. I do not think anyone
has suggested to us that there is a commercially viable alternative
in Scotland. Is the reason why there is no commercially viable
alternative the existence of the ETVs, or is it simply because
it is just not commercially viable?
Cllr Foxley: I
think it was in February that the shipping Minister himself thought
there was a commercial alternative. JP Knight will not be staying
in station after the end of September when the current contract
ends. They are already marketing that ETV. One of the things
about which we have very serious concerns is that we wish to see
the current contract extended until we can find the finding streams
to maintain that ETV on station. So, the company currently running
it, JP Knight, is marketing it and will be removing it towards
the end of September. The other companies with similar equipment
see no financial benefits in remaining in these waters. The analogy
is to leave your house uninsured. As I said earlier, we ran this
campaign for years because we were concerned. We got part of
the result with the ETV; we got other things like shipping lanes
etc, etc. Most of us feel that sooner or later there will be
a major catastrophic incident. Whether it be salmon farming,
coastal tourism, bird life and wildlife on the west coast, for
all these factors we will pay a very heavy price for the removal
of the ETVs.
Q448 Mr Leech:
My next question is specifically to the councillors. Do you see
this ending up as a financial burden on local authorities? Cllr Wills,
I think you said that Shetland Council had responsibility for
the port and harbours.
Cllr Wills: We
are the port authority for Sullom Voe. We also own the towage
company. Take the example of the Braer. Our council had very
large costs in clean up. We were the first responderthere
was nobody else therewith the help of the local coastguards.
Q449 Chair: What
did it cost you?
Cllr Wills: I do
not know the figures, but I know we did not get back all the money.
It was millions; it was a very significant part of our budget.
We never got it all back. I could get that figure for you from
our director of finance.
Q450 Mr Leech:
If the ETV was no longer there, would the local authority take
the view that it had to have something available that would be
big enough to deal with deeper water tows?
Cllr Wills: Obviously,
we will send our tugs if we have to. They are nothing like as
good as an ETV because they are not designed for the job. We
would have to do something to try to protect our waters.
Q451 Mr Leech:
What I am trying to establish is whether or not as a council you
would take the view that you need a more substantial tug to be
able to deal with deeper waters and heavier ships that have to
Cllr Wills: We
certainly would require that, but we do not have any means of
paying for it; we have no income stream. That is why this essential
means of public protectionsafety of life and protection
of the environment and the economyis a Government responsibility.
Coastguard Dodge made a very interesting reference to the Norwegian
experience. They have multi-purpose ETVs, which are involved
in fishery protection, customs, anti-drug smuggling and environmental
protection and monitoring. All these functions could be performed
without disrupting the work of an ETV and would provide income
streams, but instead of looking at the whole thing, the MCA has
looked at this mad proposalthat is all I can call itto
remove an ETV that took us years to get with lots of arguing.
It was not recommended by Donaldson for the Fair Isle Channel.
It took another disaster and the loss of a life in the Green
Lily incident on 19 November 1997 on the island where I live [Bressay]
to get us our ETV. It is very much valued; it is very useful
and is an essential insurance policy, as Michael said. We cannot
believe this madness. You would not leave the Dover Strait without
that protection. What on earth is going on? Why us? 
Cllr Foxley: I
think our response would be that we had not planned to buy and
run a tug. But what have done is to put in a lot of energy in
terms of going to meetings and discussing with officials where
the funding should come from other than a direct grant from the
UK Government. The UK Government has a very big responsibility
in this matter, as does the MCA. They need to continue to manage
the contract. The salvage from rescued vessels could be increased
from 15% to 50%. Tankers and hazardous cargo, which are escorted
through the Minches, could be charged for example. There is a
flip argumentwe are to have a meeting about this next Fridayas
to whether funding comes from the general lighthouse fund, which
is there for aids to navigation. Currently, that is in surplus
to the tune of £50 million, on top of the £60 million
reserve that it requires. We feel that is a very useful source
of funding. I have covered the issue about the Crown Estate and
offshore renewables. There is work by both the UK Government
and the Scottish Government that could be done by these ETVs,
whether it is things like border issues, MOD, hydrographic surveys
or work for Marine Scotland. The four local authorities are leading
a UK-wide groupthey have made me interim chairbut
I want to make sure that the MCA is locked into this, because
we are not going to take on all these responsibilities. We are
pursuing where these additional funding streams could come from
so we can give a package to you and the Minister and say that
we need to keep the ETVs. Give us a bit more time to put these
funding streams sustainably in place so they make sense.
Q452 Chair: How
much time would you need? Do you think that you could realistically
come up with alternative funding?
Cllr Foxley: I
am certain that we can come up with additional funding streams;
there are four or five routes, and that is in our evidence. I
think we need an extension of six to nine months to carry out
those discussions. We need to stop JP Knight marketing the current
tugs and removing them from station, so we need that leeway right
through to the winter to put this package in place.
Q453 Chair: Mr
Paterson, are you of the same view about the tugs? If the state
withdrew, do you think the private sector would step in?
As I said, my member companies do not operate tankers, so we do
not have to think about whether we need these emergency towing
vessels to stop any tankers running aground. I have no remit
in that particular area that I can offer you.
We strongly believe that there are other ways of funding the tug
but we need time. What we cannot do is take it away in September
and have no service at all. Part of the working group of which
we are members is to ask in the first instance to be given time
to work on that. Different streams of funding have been identified.
I am very concerned that the responsibility, which belongs to
Westminster, will be transferred by sleight of hand to a local
authority that then has to choose to spend money it should be
spending on services for its people on protecting the UK Government
from a risk of loss of life or large-scale pollution. We are
willing to be a very active partner in finding a solution, and
there are already indications of that, but we need time to work
that through. Michael alluded to where that money could come
from. It really is not our fault that the MCA have got themselves
into a contract that is very badly set up at the moment. They
have to get that sorted out for next time.
Q454 Mr Leech:
Could the tugs be relocated and reduced in number without unduly
increasing the risk to the environment and human life?
Cllr Foxley: The
quick answer to that is no. Some people initially thought that
but when we looked at the steaming times involved and the risks
in terms of where they are currently stationed and the increased
traffic, it was just spreading it too thin.
Cllr Wills: I entirely
agree. That idea was in the report in 2008. That is one of the
things that has changed. Traffic appeared to be decreasing.
Traffic is now increasing. There is also a lot of relatively
sub-standard tanker tonnage coming from the big ports in the Russian
White Sea and the Baltic to some extent and going past Orkney,
Shetland and the western isles. It is not monitored.
Sometimes we do not know where the ships are or their quality.
That is the big risk area. They are not coming to good ports
like the Firth of Forth or Sullom Voe; they are going to God knows
Q455 Chair: Is
this a growing trend?
Cllr Wills: It
is a growing trend. There is a very large increase in Russian
export of oil in tankers that may or may not be subject to the
same high standards that you have in Forth ports, Flotta in Orkney
and Sullom Voe in Shetland.
Q456 Julie Hilling:
I want to go back to the discussion on the station closure and
its effect on local economies, particularly staff in the gas and
oil industry. What is your opinion of station closures or their
consolidation into two big ones? What effect do you think that
may have on your industry? For the others, what effect does that
have on local economies?
In our reading of the consultative document we did not recognise
the current weaknesses that were claimed. What we have is an
organisation that works with us and has many strengths, particularly
where it is local to our operations like Aberdeen, Great Yarmouth
and so on. We have built up a whole range of collaboration, not
least because there is a legal requirement on us in the regulations
that came after Piper Alpha to consult with the coastguard. We
value enormously those local relations because they enable us
to work closely with the coastguard in that area, develop exercises
and try to make sure that, if an emergency did happen offshore,
everybody would be familiar with the process of ensuring that
does not escalate and is controlled as quickly as possible. So,
our local knowledge need is really about the installations local
to a particular coastguard station rather than knowledge of, say,
Q457 Julie Hilling:
Do you think there would be a problem if that was concentrated
in a big centre that has a little desk that says "we're oil
and gas" or whatever it may be?
As you are aware, the centre of the oil and gas industry is Aberdeen.
So, having a major centre in Aberdeen seems initially very attractive,
because that would give strength, depth and so on, but we also
value the local centres, particularly Shetland, Great Yarmouth,
Humberside, Liverpool and so on, because of their proximity to
the industry. There are two energy officers in Aberdeen who have
particular in-depth knowledge of the oil industry that enables
MCA to be much more effective in organising itself because of
their deeper knowledge of the industry. They act as a resource
for all the other centres around the UK. So, having a big centre
in Aberdeen is obviously very appealing to us in the oil industry
because it is co-located with our major companies.
Cllr Wills: On
a much smaller scale, I am in the tour boat business. Like other
tour boat operators in Shetland, I have to carry insurance. My
insurers are very happy that every time I leave port I radio the
coastguard station. I speak to Alex, Bob and their colleagues
twice a day when I am not here. I tell them where I am going,
when I am coming back and how many passengers I have. That is
a routine passage report for every trip. It is a condition of
my insurance that I do it. Because I have done that for nearly
20 years and have not had an incident, I get a lower insurance
premium, which helps my business. It helps to keep down fares
because insurance is a big cost.
It is also a great comfort to me to know that I have
an automatic [DSC] system.
If I lift a flap and press the squawk button, it will tell them
where I am. Okay, a marine operations centre in Aberdeen, Singapore
or Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands could pick up that signal,
but what happens in Lerwick is that they would know what sort
of place it was; they would know if I was under the big seabird
cliff not to send a helicopter, because 20,000 gannets and a Sikorsky
S-92 do not mix; it is a fatal combination. They would have to
send a lifeboat. They would also need to know, as they do, where
I would make for if the boat was holed and I needed to beach her.
There are not many beaches around where I go; it would be on
a rock shelf. They must have all that local knowledge.
It is not just local knowledge; it is personal acquaintance.
There are dozens of people like me around Shetland and various
industries going out in relatively small boats, many carrying
passengers, who, together with their insurers, have the confidence
that the people at that coastguard station know what they are
talking about. I am licensed to drown only 12 people, but I have
not yet and it is partly because of the good cover I get from
the coastguards. That is a really important thing for my passengers
Q458 Julie Hilling:
Does anyone else have a comment about the wider economic argument
for the coastguard stations? Maybe it is about insurance, or
are there other elements that add to your concern?
The whole economic argument ties into the fact that we feel the
service is best delivered by having a local station, given the
risk that the changes are putting on our economy. If you put
it in context, the economy of the Outer Hebrides is fighting very
hard to reverse the decline. A lot of what we are doing is based
on having good seafood, tourism and environmental tourism and
getting new activities. If you have one accident, that blackens
all of that and years of work will go down the drain. Given the
fragile state of the economy in the Outer Hebrides, if that happens
there might not be any coming back from it, so it is very important
from an economic point of view that we make sure we cover that
risk and stop it happening.
Cllr Foxley: To
follow up Jonathan's point, I worked as a GP on the west coast
for over 30 years. As to the emergency services, you need to
know each other's strengths and weaknesses. There is local knowledge,
understanding and teamwork between the command centre within the
coastguard station, the local coastguard units and the topography
there. The other elementwhich is part of the modernisationis
that all of the councils in the highlands and islands are determined
to retain local services. We do not want to see fire or police
centralised so it becomes a Scottish Government issue. What we
are working on here is how those services can work much more closely
together. We had a series of meetings to see how police, fire
and rescue services, and the ambulance service in particular,
which is centralised, can work more closely together and with
the coastguard units. What we are talking about currently in
Highland Council is looking at an initial emergency responder
who has generic abilities, because in many of our smaller remote
rural island communities we are running out of man- and womanpower
to keep these teams going within individual units. We are looking
at that and will be making presentations to the new Scottish Government
about this matter. That is a way to retain people in the rural
communities and, as Angus said, to maintain all the economic factors
that go with it.
I said that we liked the Aberdeen centre, but the key point for
us is that offshore emergencies do not happen very often, but
when they do they can be quite protracted. One of the things
we would fear is the process of handing things over from a centre
like Shetland to Aberdeen and back again, because that is when
you lose information and things start to go wrong. That interface
is something that would cause us particular concerns.
Cllr Wills: In
that context, there was a question about this raised at the public
meeting that the MCA held in Lerwick. A member of the audience
said to an MCA official that if you looked at the chartI
have given the Committee a copyShetland was nearer the
centre of the oil fields and the fishing grounds and cruise liner
grounds, so why not move your MOC, marine operations centre, to
Lerwick. The answer from a very senior MCA official was that
communications were not reliable enough.
Q459 Chair: On
that note, we would like to thank you very much for coming to
answer our questions.
I would like to thank you on behalf of all of us here at the table
and the communities of the highlands and islands.
1 Available in the Parliamentary Archives Back
An important point that I should have made about the ETVs but
forgot is this: The Minister's assumption that the ETVs are solely
for salvage purposes is mistaken. The primary purposes are to
save life (e.g. by preventing strandings and assisting with firefighting)
and to safeguard the environment. Salvage is a subordinate consideration.
The MCA's own report in 2008 (referred to above) makes this very
For the sake of clarity, I should have explained that the Automated
Identification System (AIS) now fitted on almost all large ships
relies on line-of-sight VHF links, so there will be tankers passing
west of Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides that are out of AIS
range but are still potentially major environmental hazards if
they break down (or break up) and drift shorewards. Back
DSC = Digital Selective Calling. This I ought also to have explained.
The DSC facility links my emergency radio transmitter to my GPS
unit and thus automatically gives the Coastguards my latitude
and longitude if I press the distress button. However, many small
craft do not have this system. And most incidents on the Shetland
coast involve small vessels close inshore. Back