Review Urged After Waste Ship Blaze

Calls have been made for a safety review after a blaze on a cargo ship carrying radioactive waste forced the evacuation of a North Sea oil platform.

The Danish ship, MV Parida, suffered a fire in one of its funnels on Tuesday evening and the crew shut down the engines as they tried to carry out repairs.

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

The boat, which had 15 people on board, was transporting six cemented drums of radioactive nuclear waste from Scrabster to Antwerp in Belgium.

Scotland's Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said he would be urging the UK Government to carry out an investigation and safety review following the incident.

He is set to contact Baroness Verma, who has responsibility for the UK nuclear regulatory body, to discuss whether a vessel with such a cargo should have set sail when the weather conditions were bad.

He will also call for Westminster to devolve powers over the transportation of nuclear waste on Scottish land and sea to Holyrood.

Mr Lochhead said: "The Parida is now anchored about one mile from the Cromarty Firth, and the appropriate UK regulators will decide when it is safe for the vessel and its cargo to move.

"However, given the circumstances of this incident I will be seeking assurance from the UK Government that a suitable towing vessel will be in the vicinity of the vessel as it makes its way out of Scottish waters.

"I will also be asking the UK Government for an investigation to be carried out to examine what caused this incident, and why we have a situation that vessels that are carrying nuclear waste in our waters are waiting for weather windows at this time of year, especially given the impact that the weather could have on any rescue operation.''

He went on: "Presently, the Scottish Government does not have control over the transportation of radioactive waste or what happens with ships in incidents like this that occur in Scottish waters - all we can currently do is monitor the situation. I will be raising this issue with Baroness Verma to ask expressly that the relevant powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.''

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

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL) said it is the lowest form of waste and had been cemented in six 500 litre drums.

Shetland Coastguard was alerted to the incident, around 20 miles south east of Wick, at around 8pm on Tuesday.

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.

As a precautionary measure, around 52 people were later lifted off the Beatrice platform by rescue helicopter 137 from RAF Lossiemouth and coastguard helicopter 102 from Sumburgh.

There were no reports of any injuries. Radiation monitoring has been carried out on the vessel and there is not thought to be any risk to the public or the environment.

Mr Lochhead said: "We have to ensure that we are taking absolutely every single precaution that comes with the transportation of nuclear waste.

"In this case, risk to the public and environment has been avoided, which is very reassuring to hear and I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who was involved in the rescue operation.''

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: ''This incident highlights the problems of dealing with the hazardous and expensive radioactive mess that the nuclear industry always leaves in its wake.

''Given all the severe weather warnings, questions need asked as to why a vessel carrying radioactive material was at sea at all.''

The ship has now been brought into a port to allow repairs to be carried out.

A statement issued via Police Scotland said: "The multi-agency partners working together on the MV Parida maritime incident can confirm the vessel has been brought alongside a secure pier within the Port of Cromarty Firth site tonight. This is to allow repair work to be completed.

"There are no public safety concerns with the vessel or its cargo. The integrity of the vessel and the cargo has not been affected by the maritime incident.

"The vessel will remain alongside the pier with appropriate security measures until the repair work is completed. Once a final inspection has taken place, a decision will be made on when the vessel can resume its journey.''

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