Scottish Secretary announces partnership with oil industry to provide second ETV for northern waters

Early in the ongoing round of major cuts to the Coastguard Service, the combo of the Department for Transport [DfT] and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency [MCA] blithely chopped out of the service provision both of the Emergency Towing Vehicles [ETVs] stationed in the Western and Northern Isles.

Their job was to stand by to assist in any maritime incident in the Minches, the Pentland Firth, the waters around the Orkney and Shetland Isles and the Atlantic approaches.

The furore following the announcement of the cutting of the service drove an eventual reluctant retreat from the decision – but only partially. The service of a single ETV was retained, to be stationed between Stornoway and the Orkneys, and contracted on a year by year basis until 2015, when the government says it will no longer support it.

The government asked the shipping and oil industries to help to support this particular service and today BP stepped up in response to this need.

The Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel [ERRV], Grampian Frontier,  a doughty maritime battler chartered by BP, is to be made available in response to any environmental emergency around the Northern Isles. Its owner, North Star Shipping, is working with the MCA to ensure that the vessel’s crew and equipment are able to respond as needed.

The plan is that, should such an incident arise, the Grampian Frontier will be freed  from her duties in the oil industry and head for the site of the emergency.

The announcement was made today, appropriately, in Aberdeen harbour, the heart of the North Sea oil industry and home to types of vessels not seen elsewhere.

Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, was accompanied by BP’s President, Trevor Garlick, who said that the major risk to the marine environment is from transient vessels rather than those from the domestic oil and gas industry but that, since: ‘BP has had a major presence in the Shetland region for many decades and is investing significantly to develop its business there, we are prepared to help in the interests of the wider community.’

Michael Moore 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. The legacy of the Braer disaster has great resonance in Scotland and beyond. Today’s agreement shows a clear commitment and leadership by BP and North Star to support efforts to protect the environment.’

The initial DfT/MCA decision was so fundamentally reckless it was stunning. These are the most dangerous waters in the UK, with tidal rips, rocky coastlines and the unforgiving Atlantic, fearsome in storm conditions. This is also the area through which cargo ships, chemicals and aggregates bulk carriers and oil tankers are on passage  all the time.

The area is the focus too of the oil and gas industry in UK waters – not only in the traditional waters off Shetland but with new exploration licenses granted for the Clair Ridge and other deeper areas west of Shetland – which is exactly where Grampian Frontier operates.

The agreement reached and coming to fruition today is a logical partnership between government and a relevant industry.

The next battle is to ensure that one partner stays onboard this deal for the safety of  mariners and shipping and for the environmental security of our dramtic coastlines.

That partner is the UK government which should now announce its permanent commitment to retaining the first ETV for the Minches area.

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4 Responses to Scottish Secretary announces partnership with oil industry to provide second ETV for northern waters

  1. How the blazes is this going to work? If the ERRV is offstation at all, production is supposed to stop; if the absence continues the platform operator is supposed to commence evacuation of non-essential personnel, which is nearly everyone if production is stopped. Have they completely rewritten the PFEER regulations?

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  2. db – I’m not sure of the situation with BP in this area but with the move into deeper waters larger vessels are being used than before.
    Often an ROV vessel, for example, will double up as a towing vessel, especially if shuttle tankers are employed from the field, in which case there would be two capable ships in the area.
    I am heading back to work tomorrow and one of my tasks will be to move the ROV package onto a tempoary vessel as the regular one is going to dry dock. Even the temporary arrangement must leave the vessel deck ready to take over a tow or work anchors at short notice.
    The vessels title will change depending on it’s role so there will probably be more than one available that can do safety cover in the field.
    As far as I can make out the single ETV that is covering at present will remain. It seems to be at Kirkwall most of the time so I’m not sure if it will stay there or move towards the Minch. It might find an anchorage somewhere near Cape Wrath, we’ll see, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

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    • I’m dubious about the practicality of it; most of North Star’s fleet have little or no ability to act as tugs which is going to restrict operational flexibility, making the scheduling of ship movements a taxing affair if for example a tow-capable ship has a breakdown while another is in drydock.

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  3. db – I agree that if it is just this one vessel that is being made available from BP when required, then there will be times when she is not available. I don’t know whether BP make use of her towing ability in a permanent capacity, if so I would expect that they would have another vessel standing in when she has to leave the area.
    The word “help” was mentioned by BP so it may only amount to that. Even in that case, when she is available, the ETV would be able to expand the area covered by moving down to Cape Wrath.

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