Rig on the rocks
Registered in the Marshall Islands, en route to a Turkish scrapyard via Malta (for tug refuelling), on August 8th the towline severed in a storm, then the 17,600 tonne, 33 year old mid-water floater Transocean Winner rig ran aground on the Isle of Lewis. Due to cutbacks, the only emergency towing vessel in service was 14 hours away off Orkney, though its non-availability is not an issue in this case. There was no crew on board the rig to (re-)connect a wire, start up the propulsion motors, power up the emergency generator or deploy anchors. Surfers heaven, the Dalmore and Tolsta beach areas were in lock-down. The Winner was carrying over 300,000L of diesel; 50,000L+ has evaporated after leaking from ruptured pontoon tanks.
The Atlantic west coast, the North Sea and our Firths are busy shipping routes used by naval ships, including submarines, ferries, liners, supply boats and container vessels. Ranging from creelers to klondykers, fisher folk ply their trade here. Dragon boats carrying ethane dock at Grangemouth. Ships transporting nuclear waste regularly cruise through Scottish waters. There are freak waves, hurricane-force winds, offshore turbines, pipelines, semi-subs, fixed oil and gas structures, inshore aquaculture, seabirds, marine life, ecosystems and a wealth of biodiversity.
Swiss-based, American-run Transocean was fined £1bn for criminal negligence after 2013’s fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1993 the mv Braer tanker ran aground on Shetland, spilling a cargo of 85,000 tonnes of light crude oil, causing widespread, devastating pollution.
Some unanswered questions …
Can fishermen, surfing companies and others affected by the imposition of an exclusion zone expect compensation?
Why was so much machinery fuel onboard the rig, stored in pontoon tanks?
Whatever possessed and who allowed Transocean to ‘organise’ a 17,000 tonne rig to be towed – unmanned, therefore no crew, no master, and not ballasted down – through Scottish waters in a gale that had been forecast five days earlier? Why was there only one towline?
When will a second West coast emergency towing vessel be reinstated to serve the Western Isles? On September 25th MV Hebrides crashed into a harbour wall and run aground at Lochmaddy Marina in North Uist, 65 kilometres south of Dalmore. Fortunately no passengers or crew on board the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, nor Marina users, were injured in the crash.
Why decommission the Transocean Winner in a Turkish scrapyard when the Isle of Lewis and other Scottish sites have the facilities and workforce to do the job?
Who are the ultimate losers (sic) when shipping owned (though scarcely controlled) by multinational companies traverse our oceans? Who has jurisdiction over the high seas?
Smit salvors used two tugs to tow the Transocean Winner off the rocks. The rig has been loaded on to a heavy lifting vessel, OHT Hawk, which began a two week voyage to the Med on October 14th.