I wasn’t going to write a post today but I have to in response to an article I read in The Independent – it’s about pollution disasters and the withdrawal of the four tugs that protect this Island of ours.
Since the calamitous oil spill disaster from the tanker Braer in Shetland, in 1993, (a total of 84,700 tonnes of crude oil spilled into the North Sea after the MV Braer ran aground and a total of £45 million was paid out in compensation), we have had four special tugs stationed around the coastline – our first line of defence. Now the Government has decided not to fund them any more, as of the end of this month. This flies in the face of advice from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, many MPs, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee and the recommendation from Lord Donaldson’s report after the Braer disaster.
In 2008, the consultancy Marico Marine, produced a report which stated: “The United Kingdom appears to have little option but to continue its involvement in the contracting of emergency towing vessels.”
“Lack of capability within the commercial tug and towage sector (in effect, market failure), European Union obligations and societal expectations (zero tolerance of major marine environmental incidents) combine to dictate the need for this contingent capability.”
It added: “In cost benefit terms, averting one major shipping disaster and environmental incident of the scale of the Prestige [the oil tanker which broke up off the coast of Spain in 2002] would justify a contract price far in excess of that currently being paid until its expiry in 2011 and beyond.”
Apparently, the Maritime Minister, Mike Penning, thinks differently. The many years of experience of experts, and all the detail reports written, count for nothing against Mike Penning’s fifteen months in the job! If this move had a positive point anywhere, it may be digestible; but the fact is, it will only save £8 million, a paltry sum compared with any oil disaster that has happened. So now it is basically fingers crossed that nothing untoward happens!
Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, sums it up well,
“It is completely crazy. It is incredibly irresponsible to be without these emergency vessels, even for a day. I sympathise with the need to look after the public purse, but that cannot come before lives and before the environment. This is a very dangerous game the Department for Transport is playing.”
Mike Penning, MP for the landlocked Hemel Hempstead constituency, is also responsible for the potential closure of some of our Coastguard Stations. This is even more irresponsible and unbelievable. Eight of them are threatened, Brixham, Clyde, Forth, Liverpool, Portland, Swansea, Thames and Yarmouth.
Can you imagine the scenario if these were closed? You’re on holiday in the beautiful county of Norfolk and you decide to go for a walk along the cliffs near Yarmouth. The grass is slippery and you stumble and fall off the side of the cliff and are inaccessible to be rescued from the cliff top. When the emergency call is put through to the Coastguard, it will not be a local person with local knowledge who answers the phone, it will be someone in Humber, which is, according to the AA route planner, 197.8 miles away and would take 4 hours and 36 minutes by road.
The person who answers the phone will not have local knowledge of Yarmouth and, as we all know, local knowledge saves lives. That co-ordinator will have to look up where you are saying the incident has happened. Precious seconds, even minutes, are lost ~ and so will lives be. Putting peoples’ lives at risk is indefensible, no amount of penny pinching is worth that. Our Coastguards go out in all weathers, as does the RNLI, putting their own lives at risk to save others. The men and women on the front line of our emergency services are all heroes, every single one.
The new website for The Maritime and Coastguard Agency proudly says on the front page;
Welcome . . . to the new home of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Our vision is to be the best maritime safety organisation in the world, committed to Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas.
Our values are Safety, Professionalism, Trust and Respect.
The values are superb and, at the moment, the public has trust and respect for their safety and the professionalism of all Coastguard personnel. As for the vision, how can it be the best maritime safety organisation in the world when eight strategically positioned coastguard stations are potentially to close? It is an oxymoron. And what if the modern day technology goes down ~ how on earth will it be possible to do anything?
There is a national petition against the closures which 15 thousand people signed the first time it was made public. It is new and needs your signature to make those numbers become many thousands. There is not much time left in this consultation period but, if we make enough noise, perhaps it will be heard by the people making decisions and not fall on the deaf ears of the Secretary again.
Please, please, please sign the petition!