Scots seek strict legal controls to prevent another 'Prestige' disaster

A A A

Fears of an environmental disaster like that caused by the
Prestige sinking off the Spanish coast have prompted calls for tighter controls over ships passing through the narrow channel separating the Western Isles from mainland Scotland.

Fears of an environmental disaster like that caused by the Prestige sinking off the Spanish coast have prompted calls for tighter controls over ships passing through the narrow channel separating the Western Isles from mainland Scotland.

The Minch is one of the richest and most diverse marine wildlife areas in Britain. Its waters are used by several dolphin, porpoise and whale species and is of international importance to many types of birds and a large number of common and grey seals.

The World Wide Fund for Nature believes the Minch and the waters around Orkney and Shetland are of world-class conservation value.

But more than 400 bulk carriers and tankers transporting oil, chemicals and other hazardous materials travel through the Minch each month, passing within a mile of the coast of Skye and through waters only 70ft deep in places – which is only 10ft more than the draught of many tankers. An estimated 20 per cent of all British crude oil traffic passes through the Minch. The route is a favoured one for crews because it can cut 45 miles and three hours off the route west of the Hebrides.

After the sinking of the Prestige and a recent incident off Skye when a nuclear submarine was damaged when it hit the seabed, Highland council is calling for a crackdown on safety regulations.

Many councillors had been warning for years of the potential for environmental catastrophe and the need to restrict movement of shipping in the Minch. They believe the movement of oil tankers and vessels carrying hazardous cargoes must be controlled and policed by coastguards to avoid an incident that could devastate tourism, fishing and fish farming.

Highland council would like to see the right of innocent passage abolished and the Minch become a controlled waterway. To try to achieve its aims, the local authority is to host an international seminar next year of interested countries, including Spain, France, Norway, Sweden and Canada, in an effort to agree an international policy that protects the most vulnerable countries from the threat of a spill.

Bill Fulton, a former shipping agent and councillor for Kyle of Lochalsh and Sleat, said: "The Highlands of Scotland have many small coastal communities, which depend on the sea and on fishing and aquaculture and tourism.

"But we are under threat from oil tankers and other ships carrying dangerous cargoes. Large ships sail through the Minch and the Pentland Firth; both are narrow and dangerous channels.

" Aegean Sea, which sank off Spain in 1992, had passed through the Minch 48 hours earlier, demonstrating that we are facing a common danger.

"We believe more should be done to stop ships carrying dangerous cargoes from using coastal waters where their presence endangers the local economy. The economy of the Highlands could be destroyed in the event of a tanker disaster."

At present, all tankers using the Minch are encouraged to contact coastguards before entering the area to inform the authorities of their details, seek advice on navigating the narrow channel and receive information on any potential shipping hazards. The scheme is voluntary, though, and Highland council fears that the most dangerous ships do not register their presence.

"Any old rust bucket can pass through the Minch at the moment and the vessels which tend to adhere to the voluntary code are the ones which probably present the lowest risk," Mr Fulton said.

"We would like to see a legal requirement whereby the captain would have to tell us what cargo his ship is carrying, where the ship is coming from and where it is going, what flag she operates under and who owns her."

The authorities also estimate that at least 12 per cent of ships using the Minch ignore the safety advice when passing through the mile-wide channel.

Even those that do register their presence often fail to stick to recognised shipping lanes, leading to a big increase in the chance of a collision.

John Farquhar Munro, MSP for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, said: "The recent shipping disaster off Spain has brought home the importance of making certain that we do all we can to protect our fragile coastline." He wants the government to reconsider the guidelines for ships with dangerous cargoes, and their passage past Scotland's coastline.

"Many ships with hazardous cargoes pass by Scotland's coastline every day. Perhaps the time has come to rethink whether this should continue.

"We've already had one major oil spill in recent years when the Braer tanker grounded off Shetland in 1993. Thankfully, extreme weather conditions lessened the impact of the slick. Next time, we might not be so lucky.

"I dread to the think of the consequences of a similar incident in an area such as the Minch. Even a minor spill could have a major impact. The flush of water through the Minch is poor, and it's a very sheltered stretch of sea. It would take years for an oil slick, or another hazardous leak to be dispersed.

"Put simply, the effects of a shipping disaster in the Minch would be catastrophic. It is very likely that the sea farming, scallop fishing and tourism industries would be wiped out. The local beaches would be ruined and colonies of local wildlife would be destroyed."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game