The coastguard has apologised for an error which exposed a serious failing in its basic knowledge of Scotland’s coastline, according to a prominent Highland politician.
The apology followed the dramatic fire on board a vessel carrying nuclear waste off the northeast coast.
As the incident was dealt with on Wednesday night, Highland Council deputy leader David Alston, watching TV at home on the Black Isle, was shocked to receive a phone call from Aberdeen Coastguard asking: “Is the vessel safely alongside?”
The call referred to the Danish-registered MV Parida which was being anchored off nearby Invergordon after losing power and drifting.
Mr Alston happens to be chairman of a charity that maintains the tiny Cromarty Harbour.
Aberdeen Coastguard had confused the hamlet with the giant Cromarty Firth Port Authority.
Concerned about the future of nuclear cargoes sailing down Scotland’s west coast where there are currently no emergency tugs for towing stricken ships, Mr Alston said: “We’re basically being asked to trust a system that isn’t good enough. They didn’t know the difference between our small Cromarty harbour and the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.”
The fire-ravaged Parida had been transporting radioactive waste from Scrabster to Antwerp in Belgium. After losing power it drifted towards an oil platform in the Moray Firth sparking a precautionary evacuation of the rig.
It was finally towed to Invergordon where police said there was no risk to the public.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “We should emphasise that prior to this call being made to Councillor Alston, the Aberdeen Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre was in regular contact with Cromarty Firth Port Control over a 24-hour period, on the correct contact number.
“Having checked the incident log and call records it appears that the call in question was made after an operator incorrectly dialled a Cromarty Harbour contact who provided a further (wrong) number to call.
“This put the operator directly in contact with Cllr Alston. The operator realised his mistake and, after ending the call to Cllr Alston, immediately called Cromarty Firth Port Control.
“Aberdeen Coastguard watch-keepers fully understand the difference between Cromarty Harbour and Cromarty Firth Port Control and this error was purely the result of selecting a number from a general information file, rather than our primary contacts directory.
“We apologise for any inconvenience or concern caused to Cllr Alston by this one-off error.”