Thursday, 21 October 2010

Scrapping Coastguard Tugs, is the Government oblivious to maritime safety?

The Anglian Princess taken from http://www.mcga.gov.uk/
Amidst the large amount of cuts announced during the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat spending review yesterday,there was one great cut that will effect the high seas aound Cornwall, unnoticed by many, save the eagle eyed reporters at BBC Cornwall. (and the MP for Shetland.) Despite the claim in the article that it is a Falmouth tug, the Anglian Princess has become something of a landmark in Mount's Bay it's usual station.

The vessel is classed as an Emergency Tow Vessel, designed for the towing of stricken vessels in the Western Approaches and Channel but it also has a firefighting capability, (in conjunction with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.) The Anglian Princess is one of four HM Coastguard ETVs that stand ready to assist vessels in distress. The Cornish based vessel has an important job, the seas around Cornwall are very busy with shipping coming to and from the UK and Ireland as well the continental ports of the Channel. The reason that the ETV system was introduced was threefold, to prevent loss of life at sea that could be avoided, to prevent loss of shipping and cargoes and to try to avoid environmental disasters, e.g. Torrey Canyon.

The service record of the Anglian Princess is long and eventful, the most notable being the assistance given to the Napoli -and along with the French ETV Abeille Bourbon- the eventual beaching of that vessel in Devon, follow this link for more of the story and some great pictures like this:


There follows a long list of vessels that the Anglian Princess has aided:

Sabre of Newquay 14/3/2004 fishing vessel overdue in Newlyn, assisted in search, link.
Sea Fox 11/1/2004 fire in engine room, off Land's End, towed into Falmouth, link.
Galina 3/11/2005 vessel drifting off Dodman Point, towed into Falmouth, link.
Goliath 8/3/2006 tow parted from barge, towed to Mount's Bay, link.
Spar Garnet 7/12/2006 disabled in heavy seas off Berry Head, towed to Torbay, link.
MV Petra 13/12/2006 navigation problem off Land's End, towed to Falmouth, link.
RFA Largs Bay 6/5/2007 vessel lost ability to steer off Eddystone Rock, escorted to Plymouth, link.
Antigoni 23/11/2009 gas tanker suffering machinery failure off Lizard Point, tasked to assist, link.
Oscar Wilde 4/2/2010 fire aboard passenger ferry, sent to assist, link.
Swanland 20/8/2010 engine failure off Lizard Point, towed to Famouth, link.

(It must also be noted that in nearly all of these cases the brave men of the RNLI's lifeboats have also played their parts.In addition to the equally brave Search and Rescue 771 Squadron from RNAS Culdrose)

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list of missions by the Anglian Princess but it gives a great idea over the number of incidents that happen around our coast and the number of tragedys that have been potentially avoided, in terms of lives, cargoes and pollution. It is dreadful to ponder what could possibly happen without this vital service. I am completely at a loss how this government plans to protect shipping, ferries and fishermen at sea. I have no doubt that the cost of the Anglian Princess and her sister ships throughout the UK is high, but so are the risks...

Postscript:

There seems to be somewhat more of a stir in Scotland than Cornwall about this with Charles Kennedy MP and John Farquhar Munro MSP both Liberal Democrat, calling on the government to rethink the scrapping of the Coastguard tugs. Also has some details of the Anglian Princesses twin the Anglian Prince's missions.

Further BBC Cornwall have updated their story with a statement from the MCA:
"The government believes state provision of emergency towing vessels does not represent a correct use of taxpayers' money, and that ship salvage should be a commercial matter between a ship's operator and the salvor."
Although it appears as a fair point, it does not seem to take into account the fact that once a vessel is adrift at sea that time is of the essence. The time between a vessel being in trouble and smashing against the shore could potentially be very short. Therefore it seems in the interests of saving money the government is gambling that either: a tanker filled with oil or a passenger ship would not immediate assistance. And if so that a private company could fill this need very quickly.

It also lists the potential savings apparently 32.5 million over four years, (if all four of the rescue tugs are scrapped). Whether an environmental disaster -from an oil tanker for example- anywhere around the UK would cost more than this is anyones guess. Not to mention the untangible costs of the potential loss of life. I greatly fear that if there was a disaster off Cornwall or Scotland or South East England the government would regret this saving. The second BBC story.