HIGHLANDS and Islands politicians are calling on Westminster’s Transport Secretary to urgently reinstate a second emergency towing vessel (ETV) in Scotland following the grounding of the oil rig Transocean Winner.

The semi-submersible was blown ashore in severe weather last week when it detached from its tug en route from Norway to Malta and a 300-metre sea and air exclusion zone is now in place around it.

Politicians wrote to Chris Grayling yesterday, following a meeting of MPs and MSPs from across the region in Dingwall.

Among its signatories are MSP Kate Forbes, and MPs Drew Hendry and Angus MacNeil, who say having one ETV covering the whole of Scotland is “utterly inadequate and unacceptable”.

Their letter reads: “The recent incident involving the Transocean Winner oil rig clearly demonstrates how utterly inadequate and unacceptable the current provision of ETVs north of the Border are.

“We understand that it took almost a day for the ETV from Orkney to reach the waters around Dalmore Beach.

“While we do not wish to minimise what has happened on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, if a similar incident occurred again the consequences for the wildlife, environment, life and local economy could be absolutely catastrophic.”

The politicians also note that Germany – which has a coastline a sixth of the size of Scotland’s – operates eight ETVs.

“In light of the above circumstances, the UK Government and Maritime and Coastguard Agency must urgently reverse their decision to remove Scotland’s second ETV as part of the 2010 spending review,” adds the letter.

“The very fact that we are having to make this request only strengthens the case for Scotland to have this issue devolved and to have an agency which would genuinely listen and act upon the informed concerns of the relevant stakeholders, however remote or rural their region may be.”

The politicians’ fears are being echoed by two pressure groups. Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and KIMO International (a local authority organisation working to protect the marine environment) say they are alarmed at the grounding of the rig near Carloway, on the west side of Lewis.

They have called for all shipments of nuclear waste on this route through the Minches to be halted until the outcome of this incident are fully known and understood.

Local councillor Norman McDonald, who sits on both groups, said: “The damage this potentially preventable accident could cause is of great concern here in the Western Isles of Scotland.

“It is clear evidence of the real need to restore the emergency towing vessel to Stornoway and of the ongoing risk around transporting hazardous materials through such treacherous waters. I believe the transporting of Dounreay’s waste to Sellafield through this channel should be halted now as a matter of some urgency.”

NFLA Scotland convener Bill Butler added: “What if the grounding had actually been of the ship transporting nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield? If it had taken 19 hours for an emergency tow vessel to get to the scene then the environmental impact would be of real concern.

“NFLA has been urging NDA to end such shipments for some time, as we believe they are unnecessary with the waste rather remaining in Dounreay in safe storage.”

Meanwhile, local fishermen are demanding compensation from Transocean for loss of earnings caused by the exclusion zone.

Duncan MacInnes, of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, said four fishing boats would normally work in the area and there was a precedent for compensation.

The Braer oil tanker ran aground on Shetland in January 1993, spilling almost 85,000 tonnes of crude oil.

MacInnes said: “Fishermen in Shetland got compensation when the Braer went down and we would insist on a similar compensation scheme for our members.”

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokeswoman said a survey on the rig continued yesterday.