Government axes contract with Lowestoft tug operator

A Lowestoft firm's long-running multi-million-pound contract to supply emergency tug vessels around the British coastline is to be cancelled, it has emerged.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said taxpayers should not have to foot the bill to help stricken ships – the day before one of the four tugs supplied in the contract was used to tow the stricken nuclear submarine HMS Astute off a shingle bank off the Isle of Skye.

The contract has been held by Lowestoft-based Klyne Tugs, part of the JP Knight group, for 11 years and had been up for renewal in September 2011, the date the service will now end.

David Offin, managing director of JP Knight (Caledonian), said the contract was a 'significant amount' of the firm's business, but said that there was a lot of other work the business carries out.

A statement from the company said the: 'JP Knight is a diverse and flexible company that although small has vast experience in the offshore, harbour and coastal towage business in addition to our emergency response and salvage arm and we have time now to look to new opportunities for the ETV fleet beyond the contract end date.'

The service was set up under the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) following a government review after an oil slick caused by the running aground of the tanker Braer off the coast of Shetland in 1993.

The DfT said cancelling it would save �32.5m over the period of the comprehensive spending review.

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It said: 'The MCA will no longer provide Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) at taxpayers' expense from September 2011.

'Emergency towing vessels are mainly deployed when vessels break down.

'The government believes state provision of ETVs does not represent a correct use of taxpayers money and that ship salvage should be a commercial matter between a ship's operator and the salvor.

'Removing ETVs will save �32.5m over the spending review period.'

Klyne Tugs won the full time contract for the ETV service in 1999. Its four-strong ETV fleet includes three purpose-built offshore tugs, Anglian Monarch, the Anglian Princess and the Anglian Sovereign, based at Dover, Falmouth and Shetland, respectively.

Crew and captains of the vessels have won several awards and commendations for their work during the contract.

The cancelling of the service was described as 'an own goal' by Shetland Islands Council who lobbied furiously in the wake of the Braer oil spill for emergency services that could have prevented that environmental disaster.