Friday, 7 January 2011

Loss of MCA tugs risking another Penlee?

Today saw the penultimate meeting of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee (a new Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority is taking its place).

As part of the report from the Chief Fisheries Officer, we discussed the decision by the Government to get rid of the four MCA deep water tugs which patrol our coasts. One of the tugs covers the Western Approaches and is based in Falmouth Bay and Newlyn.

Coincidentally, at the same time as the Government was making its decision, the local tug went to the aid of the Athena, the massive factory fishing vessel which caught fire and had to be towed into Falmouth.

There was some concern raised at the committee today that the loss of the tugs will risk another Penlee type disaster. That's a pretty strong statement, but the experts genuinely believe that it is a risk.

There is no doubt that the MCA tugs will be replaced with commercial vessels. But these do not have the same powers as the government boats. If a vessel is in trouble and threatens our coasts then they have to take a line from an MCA tug to avert a disaster. But with commercial tugs there will be a cost to the owner of a stricken vessel and this is often the subject of a lengthy negotiation. Before this can be concluded, the vessel can be almost on the rocks. And some skippers will try to ignore trouble in order to avoid any costs.

Of course we all hope that future disasters will be avoided, but the fact that the MCA tug was called out to assist vessels on a regular basis suggests that its loss will be felt at some point in the future.

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