The owners of the oil rig which crashed aground in the Western Isles will break their silence over the incident at a public meeting this week.
Transocean has bowed to increasing pressure to answer questions over how the accident occurred.
Islanders – many experienced mariners working in the fishing industry and Merchant Navy – query why the Transocean Winner drilling platform embarked on a course down a fragile coastline in storm force winds and wild seas despite severe weather being forecast many days in advance.
Transocean bosses have now agreed to face islanders at public meeting on Lewis about the incident, scheduled for later this week. Thursday or Friday has been pencilled in for the forum.
It means a meeting on Monday called at short notice by Carloway Community Association seems premature. None of the emergency planning groups or salvage bodies propose to attend due to the lack of information at this stage.
The 33-year-old drilling platform was on tow from Norway to Malta for scrapping when it grounded on Dalmore beach on 8 August. The structure is now tilting leaning further on her damaged end, which may be sinking into the sand.
Bosses from the global offshore oil support conglomerate will reveal how much damage was sustained when it rammed into rocks at the popular beauty spot on the west coast of Lewis over a week ago.
They will face hostile questioning over why the towing vessel, Alp Forward, failed to seek shelter given the storm forecast and decided against heading down the more sheltered Minch where the lee side of the islands Hebrides provided some from the extreme seas.
Transocean are also set to outline their plans to pull the rig off the rocks. Two salvage tugs have been hired to tow her away but a straight pull off the rocks may create additional damage and spill more oil.
Information from a sonar survey of the seabed – and local knowledge about currents around immediate coastline – will help decide if the structure will first be towed sideways across Dalmore Bay before being navigated out to sea.
The US based company intends to pump 227 tonnes of diesel from bottom tanks up to the main deck of the rig to minimise a further spillage into the environment in case the rig is further holed when moved.
If required, they appear willing to remove the oil off the rig but manoeuvring a suitable vessel into the shallow waters by the rig presents difficulties.
They will also update the community about taking the rig to a repair yard in the Scotland to be patched up before continuing her voyage to the scrapyard in Turkey.
Locals will undoubtedly suggest she is towed to Stornoway where there is suitable anchorage and a skilled workforce at the Arnish oil fabrication yard.
However, Transocean is understood to be considering lifting the damaged rig out of the water and onto a barge for her onward trip.
Summaries of the findings from the Smit salvage team hired by Transocean, and their own engineering specialists – now onboard the rig, will be relayed to the meeting.
The oilrig is listing more than before after one of her two pontoons – which are designed to keep it afloat – was holed.
Fuel and ballast tanks were ruptured, spilling 53 tonnes of diesel into the sea.
Her ruptured pontoon appears to be bearing extra weight as the rig leans over.
Fuel storage tanks within the submerged chamber ruptured, spilling 53 tonnes of diesel into the sea near valuable salmon farms.
All water ballast tanks have also been breached, it has been discovered.
Diesel fumes were smelt ashore last week while some people are said to have reported burning throats after spending time at the scene. Coastguard staff patrolling the shoreline were issued with face masks in case of oil contamination while healthy thistles growing near the rig have withered and turned brown since the fuel tanks burst.
A film of oil was spotted in the water around the rig last Tuesday.
A pollution spotter plane later swept the coastline but reported no sign of a slick. Most of the diesel is said to have been broken up by rough seas and evaporated.
Since Tuesday, SEPA and Briggs Marine are conducting daily shoreline inspections and have not found any visible sign of pollution.
Field chemistry staff undertaking regular air monitoring report “low” levels of pollution in the vicinity.
Four personnel from Transocean and the same number from salvage contractors, Smit, are now carrying out a full assessment of the rig.
At the planned public meeting, UK Government marine salvage advisor, Hugh Shaw, will also explain an outline plan to remove the stuck platform.
The public information sharing meeting is to take place towards the end of this week when the salvage team have had time to check the level of damage and identity the work required to repair and refloat the rig.
Mr Shaw said: “Once the assessment is under way, we’ll have a much better idea of what we are dealing with, which will mean a more detailed salvage plan can be drawn up and put into place.
“We’ve made a commitment to keeping people informed locally and we intend to keep to that.
“Once I’m happy that the plan is ready, we will be sharing it with community leaders and the community as a whole.”
Representatives from the coastguard and emergency planning are also expected to attend.
Don Mackay, chairman of Carloway Community Association said: “The local residents of Dalmore, and the larger Carloway community that we represent, are right to be hugely concerned about the potential environmental impact of this disaster.
“We have the real worry that 280 tonnes of diesel fuel stored aboard this rig is polluting our beaches and shores, and destroying the local marine environment.
“It is imperative that the owners and salvors remove this rig as soon as possible, and take appropriate measures to avoid further fuel spillage.”
Meanwhile, islanders are asked to stay away from the Transocean Winner platform whilst ongoing assessments are taking place.
Planned helicopter transfers to and from the rig involved using a landing site by the village road.
Chaotic gridlock was experienced when the single track road was opened for sightseers last Monday night. Cars were stuck on the roadway, blocking the route for emergency services’ vehicles, rig salvage personnel and anti-pollution staff. Traffic took the best part of an hour to return to the main road.
An emergency planning spokesperson said: “We would continue to ask the public to refrain from parking on roadside verges on the main road, not to cross hazardous ground and upset livestock – particularly in the Dalbeg area.
“Following the weather conditions of the past few days, coastal paths remain particularly hazardous and present a danger to the public who are attempting to gain access to this area.”
They added: “During this period of assessment, inspection and recovery, there will be high numbers of emergency vehicles on the road and we are grateful for the residents’ forbearance.”
A temporary exclusion zone of 300 metres to keep boats away remains in force. Anyone flying drones near the rig faces prosecution after legal airspace restrictions were imposed.
While the operation continues, the Dalmore village road remains closed other than to emergency vehicles, residents and funerals.
Western Isles Council has given formal notice of the temporary road closure of the Dalmore Village road.
The village road will be closed at the junction with the A858 Barvas to Garynahine road and will be reopened when the relevant agencies decide it is safe to do so.
The emergency planning spokesperson said: “During this period of assessment, inspection and recovery, there will be high numbers of emergency vehicles on the road and we are grateful for the residents’ forbearance.”