Letters on the Alandia Stream Incident
4th July 1999
To be honest I'm pretty shocked that there wasn't even a snipit of news on either the
television or radio in my area, about this incident that could have been a total disaster.
The first I heard of it, was in a newsgroup.
People should be told about these incidents otherwise how can we try to ensure it
doesn't happen again. There should be tighter laws about tankers carrying cargos so lethal
to our environment.
Incidents like these simply shouldn't even be close to happening.
Time for Glenda
30th June 1999
In the wake of the Alandia Stream fiasco off Fair Isle on Saturday, Jim Wallace will
have all-party support in Shetland behind his latest demand for Government action to
remedy the scandalous lack of protection against oil tanker disasters. But, when he said
on Tuesday that he was contacting "the authorities", he perhaps forgot for a
moment that he is now part of "the authorities", just as much as his colleague
in Government, shipping minister Glenda Jackson. This time, Jim may have to share the
blame if nothing comes of his renewed representations.
Those of us who make our living from the clean seas around Shetland will not be satisfied
with yet another inquiry, fudged recommendations, voluntary (and ineffective) codes of
conduct, and another round of Government refusals to implement obvious and long-overdue
reforms and make the industry pay for them. This time we want some action.
"The authorities" have been the problem since before the Braer. As long ago as
1979 some of us were suggesting that the council's and BP's Sullom Voe system of tanker
surveillance and checklists be extended to the whole of the Shetland coast and to tankers
passing the islands but not calling at Sullom Voe. Thanks in part to repeated warnings
from Jim Wallace and the late Jo Grimond, the Department of Transport has known all about
the dangers, and the means of reducing them, for at least 20 years.
No-one has ever suggested we can eliminate the danger of a tanker going aground. What we
can do is make it much less likely. Everyone but Ms Jackson's senior civil servants
appears now to understand that coastal radar surveillance, compulsory electronic tagging
of tankers, mandatory reporting-in, enforced no-go areas for vessels carrying large
quantities of polluting material, and a salvage tug based in Shetland, could massively
reduce the risks.
To call Ms Jackson's tenure of office at Shipping a disappointment is an understatement.
At times it has been tempting to whisper "Come back, Lord Caithness, all is
forgiven!" At least the ineffable earl in charge of marine affairs at the time of the
Braer could plead total ignorance. All Ms Jackson has done so far is follow a script
written by a bunch of discredited Sir Humphrys who will do almost anything to avoid any
costs falling on the oil industry or the Treasury.
According to these people, the risk is minimal because there are not that many tankers
sailing past Shetland, compared with, say, the Dover Strait. This ignores the fact that it
only takes one. They say Stornoway is near enough for a tug - which just shows they can't
read a chart. They also say the UK cannot insist, unilaterally, on electronic tagging by
transponders to track and identify ships passing our shores. We must await agreement
(possibly by the year I retire) at the International Maritime Organisation, for fear of
"retaliation" by flags of convenience such as Liberia and Panama. To which I
say, let them retaliate. Who cares?
These career officials are the same crew who brought us the stupid and dangerous proposal
to close the Orkney Coastguard station; the same geniuses who allow the West Shetland
oilfields to operate without all-weather emergency evacuation capability.
It is time Glenda Jackson either took control of her department and sorted out this mess,
or resigned to concentrate on running for Mayor of London, a post which might be more
appropriate to her many talents. Her dwindling band of friends in the maritime community
still hope she will see sense and act.
Letter from Jonathan Wills to Capt Pearce is as follows:-
Capt. Stewart Pearce
Shetland Marine Safety Sub-committee
Maritime & Coastguard Agency
27th June 1999
Dear Capt. Pearce,
I had been meaning to write to you, suggesting some agenda items for our
meeting in September, but yesterday's incident involving the tanker Alandia Stream makes
several of these matters more urgent.
I was at sea on Saturday morning and therefore heard most of the radio
traffic between the Alandia Stream and Shetland Coastguards on Channels 16 and 67. It is
extremely alarming that, six and a half years after the Braer, such a very similar
incident can happen, with a disabled tanker drifting perilously close to seabird and
fishery resources of major national and international significance, without Coastguards
having any idea what is happening.
The circumstances strongly suggest that the lessons of the Donaldson
Report are still not being fully implemented. This incident happened at the peak of the
breeding season for seabirds. Had the breakdown occurred a few hours earlier and the
tanker grounded on Fair Isle, Mainland Shetland or North Ronaldsay, the consequences for
wildlife could have been horrific. Members of the sub-committee will also be acutely aware
of the potentially catastrophic economic effects of another major oil spill in the
I therefore respectfully request that the sub-committee hold a special
session at the earliest opportunity, to discuss the following questions:
Prior to entering the Fair Isle Channel, did the Alandia Stream contact
Orkney or Shetland Coastguards to advise them of intended passage through the channel? If
not, why not?
Did the vessel follow the recommended route through the channel or did
she deviate from it? What was her closest approach to Fair Isle prior to the breakdown?
If the Alandia Stream suffered serious electrical problems around 3am
BST on Saturday 26th June, why did the master apparently delay for over six hours before
radio contact was made with Shetland Coastguards?
Who initiated the contact?
What was the closest approach to Fair Isle during the drift?
Why did the master of the tanker initially tell Coastguards he did not
require a tug to stand by him?
Given the time it took for a tug to reach the Alandia Stream, should our
sub-committee support renewed efforts to have a suitable emergency response vessel
stationed at Lerwick or Scalloway?
In view of the parallels with the Braer incident, should we also again
press the Government for faster progress towards the installation of ship transponders and
coastal radar cover for Shetland?
Should we make a recommendation that some or all of the current purely
advisory safety measures, such as Areas To Be Avoided, Precautionary Areas and recommended
tanker routes, be made mandatory and enforced, with adequate surveillance?
Should the sub-committee invite the Shipping Minister to visit Orkney
and Shetland as soon as possible, to see the situation for herself and hear the views of
local seafarers and others who depend on keeping the sea clean?
Presumably there will be an official inquiry but I can see no reason why
this should prevent us discussing the urgent issues which the incident so clearly raises.
In view of the importance of the matter, I am copying this letter to those fellow members
of the sub-committee whom I can contact and also to local media.
Member, Shetland Marine Safety Sub-committee