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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
New ship reporting system call
A report into a major chemical tanker alert off the north coast of Scotland has called for statutory safety measures to be introduced.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch wants all vessels carrying hazardous cargos to be forced to report to the Coastguard when passing through the Pentland Firth.

The branch has published the findings of its inquiry into the Ascania incident



The Ascania was carrying highly-volatile vinyl acetate when it caught fire and began drifting towards rocks at Dunnet Head on the Caithness coast in March 1999.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from villages nearby, because of fears of an explosion.

The MAIB says the fire on the tanker was caused by an oil leak and makes eight recommendations in its report.

It says: "There is a need for published advice concerning passage planning through the Pentland Firth to be reviewed with the aim of providing consistency and clarity.

"The voluntary reporting scheme for vessels transiting the Pentland Firth would need to be made compulsory for increased effectiveness, particularly with respect to vessels carrying hazardous cargos."



Thurso lifeboat coxswain Bill Farquhar was honoured for his bravery during the incident.

Mr Farquar received a medal from the Princess Royal at a ceremony in London earlier this year.

The Ascania incident has been cited as a reason against the closure of Pentland Coastguard station in Kirkwall.

The station was one of four around the country listed for closure under controversial plans from the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "As today's report makes clear this incident came close to being a very serious emergency.

"A high proportion of this report's recommendations refer to the Coastguard service.

"The UK Government must listen and retain the Pentland Coastguard station. We must never come so close to a major disaster as we did with the Ascania."

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