Cuts to emergency services at sea endanger all those who use the water, says Nautilus International

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The government is gambling with the safety of ship’s crews, passengers and the marine environment by pressing ahead with controversial plans to cut emergency services for shipping, the maritime professionals’ union Nautilus International is warning.

Ministers have signalled their intention to go ahead with proposals to end the contract for emergency towing vessels (ETVs) at key points around the UK coast and to scrap the Marine Incident Response Group (MIRG), which provides specialist fire-fighting, chemical and rescue emergency support for ships around the UK.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson described the decision – confirmed in today’s House of Commons transport committee report – as shocking.

He said: “We are utterly appalled by the way in which ministers have so casually and recklessly dismissed the evidence and the concerns of the transport committee, seafarers, fire-fighters and independent experts.”

ETVs were introduced in 1994 following the official report into the Sea Empress and Braer oil spills in Wales and Scotland and they have since become a model for other countries. On average, they are called out around 180 times a year and the number of recent incidents and near-misses in the Channel alone demonstrates the value of these vessels, Nautilus argues.

Dickinson said: “Nothing has changed since the disasters that resulted in the establishment of the ETV and MIRG services and the government is turning the clock back in a deeply damaging way.

“Current provisions exist because the market has failed to provide in the past, and the ministers are deluded if they seriously believe it can provide in the future.

“The costs of any future oil spill disaster could far outstrip the entire £80 million the government intends to save through these proposals. Indeed, the Sea Empress disaster alone cost more than £140 million to clean up and the economic and environmental costs of a similar disaster today could run to £1 billion or more. But it’s not just money we’re talking about: it is the safety of life at sea – passengers and crew – and the wellbeing of the marine environment.”

Nautilus is deeply disturbed at the potential loss of the Marine Incident Response Group (MIRG), which was launched in 2006 following long-running concerns over the decline in the number of fire brigades capable of delivering emergency support at sea.

Dickinson said: “With ships getting bigger, carrying more passengers or hazardous cargoes, and alongside significantly reduced crewing levels, the support offered by the service remains of critical importance.

“Scrapping MIRG will save the Department for Transport just £340,000 a year – so what price safety at sea?

“Scrapping these vital safety services is like cancelling your home insurance because you haven’t been burgled in the past year and it is essential that we retain the ability to cope with maritime emergencies not if, but when they do occur.

“These cuts seriously threaten the safety of all those who use the sea, and as an island nation, this could seriously impact on every single one of us.’


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