Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cornwall Council talking tough on emergency tugs...

The council has sent a very strong message to government, they argue that the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) should not be scrapped. The centerpiece of the Cornish MIRG is the West Cornwall based Emergency Tow Vessel (ETV). (I have blogged before on this subject e.g. is the government oblivious to maritime safety?)  Some choice phrases to Westminster from Cabinet Support Member for Community Safety and Public Protection Lance Kennedy included:

"This is a reckless decision which will have very serious consequences for both the safety and economy of coastal areas such as Cornwall."


To which I can only agree, also he goes on to say:

"I find the decision to discontinue the MIRG in favour of a system of assessment and advice using commercial salvers to be unbelievable."

(Both from Atlantic FM news)
Well done Lance Kennedy, it's a very strong statement to Westminster highlighting the strength of feeling over this vital service. This strong message was the first part of Lance's message the Tory councillor for Bodmin East, the second part was a reminder about the implications of Cornwall Fire and Rescue and ship fires/ incidents. At the moment the Cornish fire brigade in coordination with the Royal Navy 771 squadron and the Anglian Princess ETV stand ready to fight fires at sea.
The picture above is taken from the This is Cornwall newsite, it pictures the Athena, the fish factory ship that was on fire in the Channel last autumn. Brave Cornish firemen later suffered from smoke inhalation aboard the vessel, but the incident highlighted the coordinated response from the Royal Navy, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Coastguard tug the Anglian Princess,(MCA press release). This is a prime example of the Maritime Incident Response Group in action, it shows the need for cooperation and the need for the tug here off the Cornish coast.

As Lance explains Cornwall's fire brigade relies upon the Anglian Princess to operate from

"Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service does not have a statutory responsibility to respond to fires and other emergency incidents on vessels at sea and, with the resources available to us, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to continue to support this area of work. The current system works by Fire and Rescue MIRG services across the country supporting each other. This decision will remove this support. "
Cornwall Fire and Rescue exercise aboard the Scillonian III


Effectively Lance is reflecting the reality that commercial tugs and salvers would have no obligation to work with the fire service either in training/ exercises or to respond to actual emergencies. As a side point the same arguments go for Search and Resuce helicopters when they are privatised. The future is very uncertain over maritime safety off our vital coast.


The Governments argument for abolishing the MIRG and the Anglian Princess, is mostly about cost and lack of use. In the same Atlantic FM story it is stated that the MIRG has only responded to 6 incidents since 2006.   There is some merit to the logic here, why pay everyday for a service you barely use every year? It's a question I ask myself everytime we renew the car insurance. We have never claimed on the insurance why are we paying this money? To which my wife invariably explains the concept of insurance and the simple fact we could not afford another car if ours was stolen or set fire to. 


It's about time someone explained this concept of insurance to the inland dwelling Transport Minister, what would the cost be if a ship ran aground off Cornwall and we had no assets to prevent this? What would the cost be (heaven forbid) if we had another incident like the Torrey Canyon and again we had no assets to deal with it? The cost argument holds no water, yes it's a lot of outlay for what statistically is an unlikely occurrence but it's such a gamble to go without this cover. 
Torrey Canyon


For me though the prime argument for keeping the MIRG and all it's components is about preservation of life. I am sure there are many people in Cornwall that have not known people lost at sea, it's tragic and it does happen. Thankfully over recent years this is less of a common occurance partly thanks to government assets such as the Royal Navy's 771 squadron, the Anglian Princess and of course the brave volunteers of the RNLI. For me, safety has to come first, I do not want to live in a society where a ship in trouble miles from shore has little hope of salvation because of government cuts. I do not want to live in a society where a ship is on fire and able and willing fire-fighters miles away are completely useless to help.


If you remain convinced that the commercial salvers would happily take over the role of the MIRG, consider this: 6 incidents since 2006 for an approximately £8 million a year outlay, there's no commercial case at all for this. There's no money in it. When the Anglian Princess is gone it is very unlikely that a commercial replacement will be seen around Cornish shores or the Western Approaches.