A CALL for an emergency tug to be reinstated at the Western Isles has been made following the grounding of an oil rig carrying 280 tonnes of diesel at a popular beauty spot.

Holidaymakers have been urged to stay away from Dalmore Beach near Carloway as questions were raised yesterday over why the rig was being towed in high winds.

The incident has raised environmental concerns and highlighted the need for Scotland to have at least two emergency towing vessels (ETVs), according to Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil.

“This could have been a very different outcome, and it is another example of why we need to have an emergency towing vessel on the west coast of Scotland,” said MacNeil. “The UK Government must return the ETV to Stornoway – a tug is an insurance policy for an unusual but 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 I’m seeking further details regarding the response time – which the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has said took 18 hours.”

Added Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant: “Just two days after the tug was removed from Stornoway in March 2012, a cargo ship ran aground on North Uist. There was no loss to life on that occasion either, but we cannot simply rely on good fortune to protect staff, passengers and our environment from any future disasters.”

International environment group Kimo backed their call.

“One ETV sitting in Kirkwall is clearly not enough,” said a spokesperson.

Concern was also expressed by Carloway Community Council chair Angus MacLeod.

“If that had happened to a loaded oil tanker the place would have been devastated” he said.

Since the grounding early on Monday morning, Stornoway Coastguard has blocked access to Dalmore beach which is popular with surfers.

“We understand that this incident is of interest to people living in the area but we’re asking them to stay away to ensure easy access for emergency services and salvage teams,” said coastguard Mark Rodaway.

Salvage crews are now inspecting the Transocean Winner oil rig which was being towed from Norway to Malta and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch has started an investigation into the incident. It is understood the semi-submersible platform was en route to Turkey to be scrapped. No-one was on board when it grounded.

Scottish Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “We are in close contact with the UK government, which is responsible for managing the response, as well as the emergency services and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.”

It is understood that the tug towing the oil rig, the Alp Forward, first called for help on Sunday around 6.15pm as it ploughed through heavy seas off the Western Isles’ west coast. According to MacNeil, the coastguard emergency towing tug Herakles set off from Kirkwall just 15 minutes later but did not arrive until 12.30pm the following day – hours after the rig grounded at 7.30am and long after the towing line between the rig and Alp Forward broke at around 4.15am.