Video: Pollution alert as huge Transocean oil rig runs aground

The Transocean Winner shortly after it ran aground last month
The Transocean Winner shortly after it ran aground last month

Experts were on pollution watch last night after a huge oil rig ran aground in stormy weather off the Western Isles.

The 17,000-tonne drilling rig Transocean Winner broke free from its tug while being towed in rough seas in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Video courtesy of 360 Video Pro

The rig, now grounded at Dalmore near Carloway on Lewis, was carrying 280 tonnes of diesel and is now being monitored by a counter-pollution team.

A spokeswoman for the coastguard said last night that the risk of pollution is deemed to be “low”.

However, the grounding has reignited calls from politicians for an emergency tug to be based in Stornoway.

Nobody was on board the semi-submersible rig when it became detached from the tug Alp Forward at about 4.20am while it was being towed from Norway to Malta.

The crew was unable to reattach the tow line because of the rough seas and the rig finally ran aground at about 6.50am.

Dalmore resident Andrew MacLeod spotted the rig from the window of his house when he woke yesterday morning.

He said: “I live literally 30 seconds down the road from where the rig ended up.

“I didn’t hear anything when it happened, it was actually someone in my house who spotted it around 6.30am. Police arrived, followed by the coastguard, about half an hour later.

“The road to the beach has been blocked off and there’s a coastal walk that connects Dalmore beach to other beaches which has also been closed.

“Police and coastguard are still outside and the rig hasn’t moved.”

Police and coastguard teams have stood guard at the scene since the rig came ashore, while the secretary of state’s representative for maritime salvage and intervention, Hugh Shaw, has begun discussions with owners Transocean.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has also confirmed that it has begun an investigation into the incident.

Mark Rodaway, UK coastguard commander, said: ‘We understand that this incident is of interest to people living in the area, but we’re really asking them to stay away to ensure easy access for emergency services and salvors.

“Also the last thing we want is for people to be injured or worse trying to get a closer look on remote cliff paths.”

A spokesman for Transocean said that they were monitoring the situation but there was “no timetable at the moment” for the recovery of the rig.

The grounding has sparked cross-party calls from politicians for an emergency towing vessel (ETV) to be reinstated in Stornoway to patrol the frequently treacherous waters around the Western Isles.

The Western Isles-based tug was withdrawn in 2012 despite several concerns raised from both the islands and the mainland.

Video Credit Kevin Forbes

Angus MacNeil MP last night called for an investigation into the rig was being towed in severe winds.

He said: “Once again our waters were under threat and we are fortunate that the grounding of this oil rig posed no risk to life.

“However, this could have been a very different outcome and the UK Government must return the ETV to Stornoway. I have long argued that a tug is an insurance policy from an unusual but statistically possible event.

“I am also calling on the UK government to carry out an immediate investigation as to why this oil rig was being towed in severe winds West of the Hebrides and also asking about the response time and distance the Orkney tug had to travel to the scene.”

His calls were backed by SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and Scottish Labour’s Rhoda Grant MSP who said yesterday’s grounding “could have resulted in an environmental disaster”. In response to questions about the lack of an ETV in Stornoway, a spokes-woman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “The salvage operation to deal with the grounding of the semi-submersible drilling rig Transocean Winner on the Isle of Lewis is currently under way.

“This remains the priority of the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention Hugh Shaw as he continues his discussions with the owners Transocean and the salvors on how this might best be carried out.

“It would be inappropriate to comment ahead of any investigation that may take place either by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency or any other party.”