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.

Friday, 25 May 2012

A manifesto for the New Scots Navy


On the day the independence campaign is launched, here is a call for a Scots Navy we can believe in - one grounded in reason and common sense, with a fresh view of what "defence" means.

In doing so we offer a clear alternative to Westminster, for whom defence affairs are a matter of conflicting objectives, confusion, & mismanagement to the detriment of their national well-being.

A manifesto for the Scottish Navy:
1. The Scots Navy protects the national air and sea perimeter of Scotland.
2. The Scots Navy is responsible for:
- the safety of seafarers going about their lawful business in Scotland's waters, and their rescue in time of danger
- the prevention of maritime pollution, and the necessary actions to contain and remove pollution in the event of an accident
- the prevention of unauthorised access to our waters, the fish resources in them or the mineral resources under them
- the prevention of unauthorised access to our airspace
3. The Scots Navy supports the Scots Army to carry out the will of the Scottish Government.

And here is the underlying rationale or philosophical justification for each point:
1. The Scots Navy is an instrument of Scotland's lawful self-defence - defence is the primary purpose of Scottish armed forces.

2. The Scots Navy is responsible for the holistic defence of our perimeter, with protection of the environment standing alongside the traditional securing of the perimeter from human agencies. As guardians of the marine environment the Navy is responsible for the safety & rescue of "users" of the sea. Pollution prevention means a full range of valid and worthwhile tasks - from surveying of the seabed for navigation hazards, to emergency towing of stricken vessels and to policing of existing international maritime law preventing dumping at sea.
A holistic view of defence makes common sense - it gives clear lines of responsibility and also means that the defence forces are relevant to the day-day needs of Scotland providing a practical and rational contribution to society every hour, every day of the year.

3. The Navy is the primary agent of the Scottish Government for defence of the national perimeter, but is commanded to provide full support to the Government's primary agent for lawful external intervention. Instead of several agencies fighting each other for budget and "prestige", Scotland has a rational system - Navy for home protection, Army for external intervention.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A call for Coastguard devolution

Reported just under a year ago, Richard Lochhead highlights the sea-blindness of the urbanite coalition government. The fact that Scotland has 10,000 miles of coastline for which 2 emergency tugs are assigned is beyond their comprehension.

Scottish coastguards press release from the Scottish Goverment


Consideration should be given to devolving Scotland's coastguard services to protect them from reckless cuts which have not been properly consulted on and will put lives at risk Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochhead said today.

Mr Lochhead's comments were in response to a Select Committee report which is heavily critical of the UK Coalition Government's current proposals on a range of marine safety issues.

The Committee found that the proposals for modernising the Coastguard would lead to an inevitable loss of vital local knowledge and that the proposed drastic reduction in co-ordination centres would reduce the rate and quality of exchange of information and critically, this could happen at key points in responding to incidents, where it could directly lead to loss of life.

On top of that it finds the concept of daylight-hour stations is flawed - and argues that 24/7 cover should be maintained.

Mr Lochhead said:

"The findings of this damning report support the position taken previously by the Scottish Government on these ill-advised proposals. The option of devolving Coastguard functions should be seriously considered if we are to preserve the current life-saving service that coastal communities have come to depend on, and which are under threat on current plans.

"The coalition Government's proposals simply do not provide reassurance that the ability of the coastguard to respond to emergencies will be maintained. There are serious concerns that safety will be jeopardised if the proposals proceed in this reckless form.

"This report, as well as the cross border and cross party concern already voiced about the negative effects of current proposals, reflect strongly the feelings of industry stakeholders and members of the public. There is broad consensus these proposals are ill considered, ill founded and designed to save money - not lives.

"The UK Government should therefore withdraw its shambolic modernisation proposals and consult fully on revised plans which should include the option of devolving coastguard responsibilities to Scotland."

Mr Lochhead also highlighted the ongoing position of Emergency Towing Vehicles (ETVs).

He said:

"Following a unilateral decision to withdraw funding from ETVs from September, we still have no idea how this vital service will be provided from then. This situation poses absolutely unacceptable risks to both lives and our precious marine environment. A better way forward must be established and quickly."