Cargo Ship At Anchor After Blaze

A cargo vessel carrying radioactive material with 15 people on board has anchored in the Moray Firth following a fire.

An oil platform has been evacuated after a cargo vessel carrying radioactive waste from Scotland to Belgium began drifting towards it.

The ship, named Parida, suffered a blaze in one of her funnels yesterday evening and the crew shut down her engines as they tried to carry out repairs.

She began drifting towards the Beatrice oil platform, operated by Ithaca Energy, which was shut down and evacuated as a precaution.

The 52 people on board were lifted off the platform by rescue helicopter 137 from RAF Lossiemouth and coastguard helicopter 102 from Sumburgh, Shetland Coastguard said.

The Parida is owned by Belgian authorities and was transporting Belgian waste back to Belgium after collecting it from Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness where it had been reprocessed.

Dounreay said it is the lowest form of waste and had been cemented in 500 litre drums.

A spokesman said: "Everything is still secure. The nature of the cargo is it is safe and the cargo is not damaged. There is no danger to the crew.''

Shetland Coastguard were alerted to the incident, around 20 miles south east of Wick, at about 8pm last night.

The coastguard tasked their emergency towing vessel from Orkney to go to the scene but the Parida's operators arranged for a commercial tow by the Pacific Champion.

The Parida, which was en route from Scrabster in Caithness to Antwerp in Belgium, has 15 people on board.

A Shetland Coastguard spokesman said: "The coastguard emergency towing vessel from Orkney was tasked to go and prevent the Parida from drifting, but before the coastguard vessel arrived on scene the owners agreed a commercial tow with Pacific Champion.''

There were no reports of any injuries.

The Parida is now being towed into the Moray Firth, where it is expected to undergo repairs.

Ithaca Energy hopes to return their staff to the platform today.

A spokesman said: "Because the ship was drifting overnight towards our platform we did what is standard procedure and shut the platform down and evacuated all personnel to shore, and that worked very safely and efficiently.

"Through the night the weather abated and a tug vessel is out. The coastguard are dealing with it and from our perspective the incident is over.

"We are going to focus on getting our people back out to the platform today and do what we need to start production again.''

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, said ministers were "closely monitoring'' the incident.

He said: "A Scottish Government Resilience meeting has taken place with key partners including Police Scotland and the Maritime Coastguard Agency, which is co-ordinating an operation to stabilise the vessel and ensure it is safely recovered to harbour.

"Ministers have been briefed and Scottish Government officials are engaging closely with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the UK Government and key partners to ensure appropriate response arrangements are in place.''

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