Assessing the requirement for an ETV in Scotland

Peter Barker

An independent assessment by London Offshore Consultants Ltd on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has looked in detail at the case for an Emergency Towing Vessel in Scottish waters.

Four ETVs were established in UK waters in 1994, reducing to two in September 2011 and just one the following year based at Kirkwall. The arrangement has continued since with extensions, employing the MCA chartered Herakles a 170tbp anchor-handling tug which served in the role as Anglian Prince under previous ownership.

Passionate campaigning locally has urged permanent retention of the existing tug and reinstatement of a second vessel covering the wider Scottish waters region. There are now signs perhaps of a desire to determine once and for all the longer-term arrangements with this assessment produced ‘as a matter of urgency’ with just one month between commissioning and presentation by LOC.

The comprehensive 117-page assessment takes into account: traffic density and type, specific hazards, and prevailing weather and environmental sensitivities in the area in which the current vessel operates. Crewing and training requirements and suitability for performing non-emergency work are considered using data obtained from both in-house and public domain sources including the highly-regarded review by Captain C Belton, RN (retired) in 2000 and it is interesting that the report states ‘there will be repetition in this study where circumstances remain unchanged’.

A brief summary of the history of ETVs is included from what is recognised as the first example in South Africa in the mid-1970s to the Amoco Cadiz, Braer and Sea Empress casualties, all considered milestone events with the development of ETVs globally.


Tugs up to 55tbp are available locally but none are considered suitable for emergency towing in gale force conditions. They have however been used effectively within their operational capabilities and should be considered in future emergency towing plans in this respect.

It is recognised that while measures including pollution prevention regulations have improved safety of navigation, specific hazards remain presenting potential risks. Weather statistics show no discernible changes and the area remains ‘the most environmentally sensitive area in the UK by a wide margin’. Although previous risk assessments remained relevant a higher traffic density including larger vessels and increased liner activity is identified.

The question of bollard pull capacity is assessed based on the likely proportion of vessels in the area which may require towage assistance from an ETV. It is concluded that a tug with a bollard pull of about 120t would provide a reduction in risk from drifting or disabled vessels.

The study team’s main recommendations are set out based on the provision of an anchor-handling tug supply vessel with the above bollard pull. It should be comprehensively equipped for ocean and emergency towage operations in all weather conditions. The assessment states that this type of vessel (AHTS) also provides flexibility for non-emergency work.

It should have a patrolling function and be more centrally based within the area if practicable with VTS and weather forecasting services determining patrol strategies. Crew complement should be at least ten all with relevant experience in coastal, ocean and emergency towing. Training should be ‘robust’ and continuous with personnel attending approved emergency towing courses. The inclusion of exercises along with live drills using voluntary vessels should take place at least annually, managed and coordinated by the MCA.

Should the ETV be tasked with non-emergency work, operational restrictions should be borne in mind and contingency plans prepared ready for implementation in the event a casualty vessel requires assistance.

In summary, a number of reviews of this type have been carried out over a long period since the late Lord Donaldson’s inquiry ‘Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas’ in 1994, all generally reaching the same conclusion that provision of an ETV around the principle of ‘intervention’ is a service which with just one operation could avoid catastrophic environmental not to mention personal and financial damage justifying the expense incurred by an ETV.

By Peter Barker

'Herakles' has a long and distinguished history including many years as an ETV (Rederi Nestor)
'Herakles' has a long and distinguished history including many years as an ETV (Rederi Nestor)