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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 15:59 GMT
Sea lane concerns after grounding
By Doug Kennedy
BBC Scotland news website

The tanker grounded had just delivered a cargo of gasoil
There are renewed calls to increase shipping safety controls following the grounding of an oil tanker off Skye.

The tanker was refloated but the incident has refocused attention on west coast and Minches sea lanes.

Highland Council is waiting to hear the conclusions of a Department for Transport (DfT) safety review prompted after cargo ship MV Jambo sank in 2003.

Environmental group WWF Scotland has urged stricter controls on marine shipping lanes and safety mechanisms.

The Jambo hit rocks off the Summer Isles early on the morning of 29 June, 2003.

We had men at Kyle this morning with booming equipment and stocks of oil pollution materials
Brian Downie
Highland Council

Initial advice was that its zinc cargo was hazardous but a salvage operation was abandoned, leaving about 1,500 tonnes on the sea bed.

DfT monitoring later concluded that zinc levels in the water and in sediments showed no cause for concern.

Representatives from Western Isles Council and Highland Council met the then Shipping Minister David Jamieson to discuss increased regulation on transporting hazardous cargo through the Minches.

Following talks with the councils, the DfT agreed to carry out a formal review of safety in the Minches.

MV Jambo
The MV Jambo foundered off the Summer Isles in 2003

A spokesman for the DfT said the results of two vessel traffic surveys, covering the Minches and the Hebrides-St Kilda deep water route, were due to be published early in 2006.

He added: "The vessel traffic surveys record the volume and type of the traffic using these waters, and make recommendations - as appropriate - for additional measures to improve maritime safety in these areas."

Brian Downie, emergency planning manager with Highland Council, said a number of other safety issues were being pursued.

Mr Downie said: "Automatic identification systems will become mandatory at the end of 2006, so at that point Stornoway Coastguard will physically be able to see and contact all vessels, giving them better enforcement on traffic routing.

"We have been in discussion with the Department for Transport on issues around traffic routing, safe havens and maritime environment high-risk areas (Mehras), which we are hopeful would give additional protection."

Risk designation

But he stressed that the council had its own emergency plans and contingencies which were put into place when the latest alert was raised on Tuesday night.

"We had men at Kyle this morning with booming equipment and stocks of oil pollution materials," he added.

Both the Highland Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) have called on the UK Government to designate The Minches a maritime environment high-risk area.

Head of the WWF's marine programme in the UK, Simon Walmsley, said even minor incidents represented a strong warning of what could go wrong.

Even one tonne of oil is bad for the marine environment
Dr Simon Walmsley

Dr Walmsley said: "The Department for Transport has not released its consultation on maritime environment high-risk areas and the bottom line is that we would strongly advise that the Minches are designated a Mehra.

"The incident this morning underlines the need for marine spatial planning, shipping lanes, safety mechanisms and other areas of use, taking into account wildlife protection.

"Even one tonne of oil is bad for the marine environment, areas around the Braer disaster took seven years to recover and that creates not just an environmental, but also an economic impact."

Strong winds

The WWF has also called for a specific Scottish marine act and continued risk assessment of shipping in the Minches.

The oil cargo ship which grounded on Wednesday - The Blackfriars - had just delivered a consignment of gasoil to Lochinver.

Hundreds of bulk carriers and tankers travel through The Minches every month, some passing within a mile of Skye, in waters only 70ft deep in places.

Skye Bridge
The Blackfriars grounded close to the Skye Bridge

The Blackfriars' operators Crescent Marine Services said: "The vessel, caught by strong gusts and an unusually strong tide, was pushed against a rocky ledge."

The circumstances of the incident are under investigation.

Bill Fulton, a former shipping agent and councillor for Kyle of Lochalsh and Sleat, said the potential for damage anywhere along the west coast was serious.

He said: "In that particular area we have shellfish farms, fish farms, we depend hugely on coastal tourism.

"There are lots of people with hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, coach firms.

"That would be wiped out, all gone, so it would be devastating."

Consultation on the designation of Mehras is expected to take place in early 2006.

Call for tighter shipping safety
30 Jul 04 |  Scotland
Councils united on tanker safety
27 Jan 04 |  Scotland
Ship pollution fears allayed
22 Sep 04 |  Scotland

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