On Monday we met to consider two enormous improvements to the protection of the Minch as an amenity and economic entity.
A joint committee between Highland Region and the Comhairle, which I co-Chair, met to consider the new AIS "Automatic Identification System" installed in the Coastguard in Lewis late last year. All vessels over 300 gross tonnes must now be fitted with this device, which sends their fixed details, together with the movement data, such as direction, speed and vessel type, to the Coastguard automatically.
After some 10 years of trying, we have finally got some protection for the Minches, above and beyond the Coastguard tug. This means that all large vessels within about 80 km of our shores can be monitored from Stornoway, which should help prevent any further incidents.
In addition, the IMO ("International Maritime Organisation") has approved improved reporting and navigation separation channels in the Minches to keep the north and south bound vessels apart, and a narrowing of the deep water route of the West Coast. The former ensures that the narrowing between the Shiants and Neist Point should be better controlled; the later allows the tug time to get around the Butt should a vessel get in trouble.
This is a great success story for the islands, but there is still much to be done, especially off the west coast and I will be continuing to lobby the Minister. I spent some time with Stephen Ladyman and his most senior civil servants in Gothenburg at the Ministerial meeting of the North Sea conference, and they were very keen to see this happen -- now I just need to remind them of their promises.