It's surely more than a little ironic that, in the week of the Comprehensive Spending Review and Strategic Defence Review, the Royal Navy's most expensive submarine (not being scrapped) should run aground and have to be pulled clear by an MCA ocean-going tug (on the scrap list).
There are four of these MCA tugs based around the coast. One, the Anglian Princess, is based in Falmouth. I saw the ship when I went out with the Fire Service's boat a few months ago.
The purpose of the tugs (other than to rescue stranded billion pound submarines) is to protect the UK's major shipping lanes and to assist vessels in distress. When a ship at sea faces trouble, the captain is often reluctant to declare an emergency because of the huge salvage fees that can become payable to private tug operators who rescue them. So they tend to plough on regardless and can become a massive danger to shipping as a result. What would happen if a tanker captain found himself in difficulty but was too scared of salvage fees to declare an emergency. The chances of that tanker crashing into the Cornish coast may not be that high, but the consequences would be cataclysmic.
And so the MCA tugs are there to help those who ask for it but also to be used when vessels are in trouble but refuse to declare an emergency. They are also used to ferry firefighters and their equipment to vessels ablaze out to sea.
Without the Anglian Princess, the South West Approaches are going to be a bit more risky.