Talks on future of tugs in Lewis and Shetland continue

Anglian Sovereign. Pic: Simon Riley/MCA Emergency tugs stationed around the UK coast were withdrawn to save money

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Talks are continuing between campaigners and the UK government about the future of two emergency tugs covering Scottish waters.

Vessels hired to carry out Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) duties around the UK coastline were withdrawn last year to save money.

But protests led to tugs returning to bases in Lewis and Shetland on a temporary basis until 31 March.

Highland Council said talks on what happens after March were ongoing.

A spokesman said the Scottish Emergency Towing Vessel Task Group was continuing to liaise with the Scotland Office in seeking a permanent presence in the Minches and the Northern Isles.

In a written response to a question from a Sutherland councillor, the local authority said: "The Scottish ETV Group's position remains as previously stated.

"That the responsibility for the provision of this essential service sits with the UK government and we will continue to press them to identify the funding required to maintain it on a permanent basis."

Pollution control

George Farlow, SNP councillor for north, west and central Sutherland, had sought an update on the provision of the tugs.

Beyond March, the oil and gas industry has offered to support the MCA by deploying its chartered vessels in emergencies off the Northern Isles.

In December, Scotland Secretary Michael Moore said a long-term solution for the Western Isles and west Highlands had still to be agreed.

The vessels provide pollution control and, in the past, have gone to the aid of private and military vessels in distress.

Highland Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) and Shetland and Orkney councils have been involved in the campaign to save the tugs.

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