OIL and gas industry leaders warned last night that coastguard cuts could leave the emergency service struggling to cope with a major incident in the North Sea.
They raised concerns about whether there would be enough staff left in Aberdeen to “respond effectively” to a crisis offshore.
Oil and Gas UK’s health and safety manager Bob Lauder said: “In particular, the proposed staff reductions in Aberdeen raise concerns about whether the centre would have the capacity to respond effectively to a major offshore oil and gas incident.”
He added: “Many years of constructive interaction between the oil and gas industry and the coastguards have established strong links and a rich body of local knowledge and experience in Aberdeen.
“Oil and Gas UK is therefore concerned about proposals to downgrade the Aberdeen Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre, as well as the cumulative impact of all the planned changes to maritime rescue services, including the immediate withdrawal of emergency towing vessels.
The organisation said it would submit a response to the consultation by the UK Government before the October 6 deadline.
Meanwhile, Scottish Government Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead warned that the country’s coastline and marine environment were now at risk after yesterday’s withdrawal of emergency towing vessels.
The provision of the vessels was recommended by Lord Donaldson in his report on the Braer disaster when an oil tanker ran aground and ruptured off Shetland while carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil in 1993.
But ministers believe they can save £8million a year by cutting them.
Mr Lochhead said yesterday: “The loss of our emergency towing vessel today is of huge concern and could be back to haunt UK ministers should a serious incident occur. The UK Government have scrapped this vital service without putting any alternative in place. That is unacceptable and they must be held to account before it is too late. It would be an utter tragedy if questions were only to be raised after an event.
“There is also growing concern the cumulative impact of these unco-ordinated proposals will put lives at risk and seriously hamper Scotland’s ability to deal with emergency situations, particularly in relation to the oil and gas sector.”
The UK Government is insistent its proposals would ensure “a cost-effective service” ensuring the continuing safety of seafarers and coastal communities.