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A 17,000 tonne oil drilling rig has been blown ashore in Scotland after intense storms hit it.
The colossal drilling rig, named the “Transocean Winner,” was being towed between Norway and Malta as part of a decommissioning operation when it was taken into the stormy conditions, leading to a tow cable snapping and the rig making landfall on the beach of Dalmore in the Carloway area.
The plan was originally to take the plant to Norway, where it would have much of its equipment disabled and removed, before being towed past Scotland to Malta, where the decommissioning process would be completed. Then, finally, the 17,000 tonne rig would have been taken to Turkey to be completely dismantled and scrapped. However, as we know, it never made it;
Very heavy weather conditions west of Lewis, Scotland, caught the tows and their gargantuan cargo, resulting in the semi-submersible drilling platform breaking free of its moorings and being carried away by the storm in the middle of the night. Within a few hours, the rig had blown ashore, beaching on a popular surfing beach in Carloway.
Stornoway coastguard have confirmed that there were no personnel onboard the rig when it broke free, and no tourists on the beach when the platform crashed. However, environmental concerns abound – the Transocean Winner is an oil-drilling platform, after all, and the rig is confirmed to have had 280 metric tonnes of diesel on board at the time of the crash. There has been a small fuel spill, but most of the diesel appears to still be on board.
Despite the crash involving no people and presenting “no risk to life” according to the coast guard, their personnel have still blocked access to the beach, citing health and safety concerns. Given the presence of a 17,000 tonne oil platform that was blown onto the beach by an extreme storm, that seems reasonable.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has launched a formal investigation of the incident, while its sister agency the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has confirmed it is monitoring the situation closely for any pollution from the beached platform. It was the MCA that confirmed the presence of the 280 tonnes of diesel on board the rig. Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, also released a statement in the wake of the crash, announcing that all key agencies involved were doing everything in their power to “make sure the platform is secure” and “minimise and immediate risks both to human safety and to the environment”.
The Scottish Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, Hugh Shaw, is now also on-task, in talks with the owners of the Transocean Winner, and the salvage teams, one of which was handling the salvage of the rig until the accident, and the other of which is on-site attempting to resolve the situation on the Isle of Lewis.
“The counter-pollution branch of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been monitoring the situation since arrival, and the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention is on-hand, keeping a close eye on things. The local authority, the police and Marine Scotland have all also been informed and are being kept in the loop.” Ms. Cunningham went on to say.
With the enormous metal structure towering over the beach and the surrounding countryside, a particularly canny salvage operation will be required to safely remove it. Salvage firm Smit have been contracted to deal with the incident, and the MCA have told the press that they have “complete faith” in them.
Preparations for the Future
The Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, and the MP Angus MacNeil, have both said that the Transocean Winner crash and the subsequent immense salvage operation have underlined the existing need for Scotland to have two emergency tug boats able to respond to maritime disaster – as it is, one has to come from the Northern Isles, a distance that is too far to prevent such problems in future or resolve them quickly.
In the past, Scotland did have two of its own towing vessels available to the coast guard, each of which covered the north and west coasts, respectively. However, as part of their ongoing austerity programme, the UK government reduced this to one single boat in 2012.
Responding in an official capacity, Mr Allan told the press that “In the early hours of this morning the tow line between a tug and the Transocean Winner oil rig snapped in heavy weather, resulting in the rig going aground at Dalmore on the west side of Lewis.
“I am grateful to hear that there have been no injuries reported after this incident but it does leave us with a significant environmental threat to deal with.
“I am also deeply concerned to hear that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s nearest emergency towing vessel was in the region of 14 hours away.”