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Caithness News Bulletins October 2003

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A Highland councillor has been raising the profile of the Council’s campaign for more effective management of shipping around coastal waters. Councillor Bill Fulton, Kyle, who is a former Chairman of the Tankers in the Minch Working Group, has already lobbied the UK Government, the European Union and the International Maritime Organisation to tighten the control of shipping through UK coastal waters and hopes to make a breakthrough by addressing delegates attending a maritime safety seminar held by the Conference of Peripheral and Maritime Regions in Nantes, France.

He said: “I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to highlight this important issue before such a gathering.  It gives us a tremendous platform to hammer home the current dangers that exist daily around our shores and the need for urgent action across the international community.”

He told the conference that a number of measures to enhance safety have been proposed, ranging from the removing of the Right of Innocent Passage to seeking a mandatory reporting of vessels using coastal waters; the installation of transponders on all vessels; and the permanent siting of tugs in the waters of the Minch. Success, to date, has been limited to the berthing of a tug at Stornoway.

He reported there are more than 150 areas off the west coast of Scotland with one environmental designation or another. Despite this, there existed a Right of Innocent Passage through the Minch, between the Western Isles and the Isle of Skye, which is regularly used as a short cut by many vessels, including very large bulk carriers and chemical tankers, many with deadly cargoes.

He said the Right of Innocent Passage should be removed. He said: “The Right of Innocent of Passage through this seaway allows any vessel to transit the passage without informing anyone that they are there. We are not informed where they have come from. We are not informed where they are going.

“We are not informed of what they are carrying. We do not know the name of the vessel, nor the flag that she is sailing under.  There is a recommended route to separate vessels travelling north from others travelling south, it is not enforceable. Many ships travelling north-bound do so on the south-bound routing.”

He was critical of crewing levels and condition on some ships. He said: “We must persuade our Governments to take the actions that are necessary to ensure that these floating time bombs are driven from the seas. Vessels entering coastal areas should be enforced to identify themselves, to provide us with all the necessary information as regards that vessel and its cargo including the name of the Master.  Additional funding should be made available - possibly to the European Marine Safety Agency – to board vessels in coastal waters in order that information can be verified.  We cannot allow rogue ships with rogue Masters to creep around our shores like thieves in the night.”

He said the time had come when all vessels should be fitted with transponders. “Apart from the obvious advantage of knowing exactly which ship is in your coastal waters, the transponders could - at the press of a button - alert the rescue services that the ship was in distress.  The ship could then be located without the delays and the dangers that are obvious when a grid search has to be undertaken.”