Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Down to the nitty-gritty - Part 1: Rescue and anti-pollution


Using the “manifesto” in the last post as a reference point, a sensible summary of the everyday tasks of Navies and Coastguards would include among others:
  1. Detection of seafarers in danger and their rescue.
    • Monitoring from Coastguard stations – proactive surveillance and incoming emergency calls
    • Coordination of rescue
      • Provide instructions to ships & helicopters in area
      • Use of own assets – lifeboats, air-sea rescue helicopters
  2. Emergency preventative action in event of oil spills or other environmental threats, such as oil rig fires
    • Coordination of efforts
      • Fire-fighting on oil rigs or ships
      • Towing of broken-down or damaged vessels
      • Beach protection, oilslick spraying
  3. Securing the perimeter from unauthorised entry by traffickers and terrorists, and securing offshore installations – oil rigs and renewable energy turbines
    • Monitoring of ships and aircraft in national airspace and waters
    • Identification & challenge of threatening ships and aircraft
    • Preventative action:
      • Disabling or boarding of ships
      • Dissuasion and shooting down rogue aircraft
  4. Fishery protection
    • Surveillance of vessels
    • Inspections of fishing boats
      • Boarding at sea
      • Policing in harbour
    • Preventative action
      • Confiscation of fishing gear or boats
      • Dissuasion from entering Scottish waters, escort out of Scottish waters
  5. Securing container ports and sea lanes from sea mines
    • Surveillance of sensitive sea areas
    • Protection of port perimeters
    • Detection and disposal of mines

This is a long list. It speaks to the myriad tasks just to cover the basics of running a maritime nation’s borders– note that we haven’t even got to “securing the perimeter from other military forces”.

What assets and resources do we have today – i.e. what has Westminster allocated to us, and what would we reasonably decide to have if we were in charge of our own destiny?

This post looks at rescue and anti-pollution, later posts will cover policing activities and military requirements.

Detection of seafarers in danger and their rescue.
  • Until now we have had 5 HM Coastguard rescue coordination centres in Scotland – under currently planned cuts these will be reduced to just Stornoway, Shetland and Aberdeen, with Clyde and Forth closing.
  • Scotland’s Search and Rescue Helicopter needs are currently met from 4 helicopter bases. HM Coastguard operates 2 helicopters in Stornoway and 2 in Shetland under contract, HMS Gannet (Prestwick) operates 3 helicopters and the RAF operates 2 from Lossiemouth. From 2016 the military-operated SAR aircraft will be taken over by a private contractor who will operate all aircraft, branded as HM Coastguard.
  • After the last round of defence cuts and retirement of the Nimrod aircraft there are no military fixed-wing, long range maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) anywhere the UK. Marine Scotland has contracted two small fixed-wing aircraft for Fishery Protection.
  • RNLI in Scotland operates 45 lifeboat stations. As a voluntary, self-funded organisation the RNLI still operates Ireland’s lifeboats, 90 years after independence.
The threatened Coastguard station cuts, plus the withdrawal of emergency tugs triggered a call from Richard Lochhead to devolve the coastguard in Scotland, to Scotland. There is precedent: the formation of the Isle of Man Coastguard in 1989, following the closure of the HM Coastguard station there ...

Emergency preventative action in event of oil spills or other environmental threats, such as rig fires
The recent Elgin gas leak shows the range of Westminster and Scottish agencies with a say in anti-pollution coordination.

From DECC's website; 29 March 2012:
“DECC and HSE inspectors are fully updated and briefed in person at daily meetings with TOTAL at TOTAL’s emergency response unit in Aberdeen.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change convened a Government Regulators’ Group yesterday with Government bodies and departments including experts from DECC, the Health and Safety Executive, Maritime and Coastguard Agency [parent of HM Coastguard], Marine Scotland and Marine Lab to ensure the UK Government‘s response, advised by the Scottish Government’s agency Marine Scotland, is coherent and joined up during this incident. That group will now meet on a regular basis to consider TOTAL’s actions and the Government’s response to the incident.”

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (the parent of HM Coastguard) is responsible for anti-pollution efforts – but they play mainly a coordinating role.

The actual actions to deal with pollution, including spraying of dispersants and sucking up oil from the sea surface are either carried out locally by harbour authorities, or by the MCA’s contracted fleet of 2 spraying aircraft and 2 surveillance aircraft covering the whole of the UK. Firefighting is carried out by certain designated local authority fire and rescue services who provide a Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG).  These teams are trained and equipped to assist vessels in UK waters, boarding them via boats or helicopter.

Emergency tugs (Emergency Towing Vessels - "ETVs), or lack thereof
In the aftermath of the Braer oil spill in Shetland in 1993 four emergency tugs on permanent standby were contracted to HM Coastguard. In 2010 these were cut to save £32.5m over 3 years. The two vessels based in Scotland (Stornoway and Shetland) had a 3 month reprieve in late 2011, and the Shetland vessel a further 3 month reprieve in March 2012.

Of interest is the fact that several neighbouring coastguards (Norway, Iceland, Sweden) operate offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) capable both of emergency towing and firefighting

Rescue and anti-pollution – summary of assets
In pre-cuts Scotland there were
5 Coastguard coordination centres (Stornoway, Shetland, Aberdeen, Greenock, Crail [Forth])
9 SAR helicopters (Stornoway, Shetland, Prestwick, Lossiemouth)
45 lifeboat stations
Time-share of 2 oilslick-spraying aircraft
Time-share of 2 pollution surveillance aircraft
2 Emergency Towing Vessels (Stornoway & Shetland)

Assuming the allocation of assets in pre-cuts Scotland was appropriate, the size and shape of the kernel of a future Scottish Navy, in terms of the location of bases, starts to emerge.

The next post will start to look at the maritime geography of Scotland and the maths behind the required numbers of units to sustain surveillance patrols.


Independence "So Whats?"
1. Westminster cutting Coastguard stations and emergency tugs against Scotland's wishes
2. Westminster has already cut military maritime patrol aircraft as part of the MoD budget
    disaster of recent years
3. Precedent for Coastguard devolution triggered by cuts - as far back as 1989 to the 
    Isle of Man 
4. Too many Westminster agencies today responsible for anti-pollution efforts and for 
    Search & Rescue helicopters (which are to be privatised in future)
5. Scotland shares anti-pollution aircraft today - will need own fleet in future
6. RNLI could carry on providing inshore rescue, as in Ireland.


  1. Nothing from you for a long time - a real pity.

    Hope you are well.


    1. Greetings Daibhidh

      A post on a proposed structure for the Scottish Defence Forces is in the planning stage, hope you will like it.