Disaster averted at Hunterston following mayday call

Girvan lifeboat dwarfed by the two huge drilling ships. Photograph: Steven Muir, Cumbrae Traffic and Travel.

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A serious maritime incident at the nearby Hunterston Terminal was  averted after lifeboats from Largs, Girvan and Troon RNLI spent more than 40 hours securing a 228-metre drillship which broke free of its moorings last week.

Shortly after 7.20pm on Tuesday February 2, HM Coastguard received a mayday call from VALARIS DS 4, a 96,000 tonnes drillship with eight crew on board, which had started to drift without power in strong easterly winds.

Lifeboats from Troon and Largs were launched to assist and with no immediate requirement to evacuate those onboard, Largs RNLI returned to station while Troon RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat provided assistance to help secure the vessel and to prevent it from drifting further.

Following a 12-hour shift by the Troon lifeboat, Girvan’s volunteer crew took over at 6am on Wednesday to allow their colleagues some time to rest. The favour was returned hours later when Troon volunteers returned at 4pm to provide relief for the Girvan crew.

In addition to the work by the lifeboats from Girvan, Troon and Largs, was the Coastguard Rescue helicopter based at Prestwick, and the Largs, Cumbrae, Ardrossan, Ayr and Greenock Coastguard Rescue Teams. Tugs from Greenock were also tasked to help another vessel, Enesco DS8, which needed assistance to hold its position in the rough seas with winds blowing at 40 to 60 knots and sleet and rain adding to the difficult conditions.

At 2am on Thursday morning the Girvan all-weather lifeboat was relaunched and made its way back to the scene to take over from Troon RNLI. After a further nine hours on the water, Girvan RNLI were stood down as the bad weather subsided and the vessel was deemed to be secure.

Girvan RNLI Lifeboat operatons manager, John Gourlay, said: ‘This incident is a testament to our incredible volunteer crews. In the last few days, crews from Troon completed over 23 hours of on-scene support with our crew here in Girvan spending 19 hours at Hunterston – all of this during some very cold, wet and windy weather conditions.

‘Our volunteer lifeboat crews are on call 24/7, they never know when the next callout will be or how long they will be at sea for. Thanks also go to the families and the employers of the crew members due to the prolonged nature of the callout.’

Hunterston Terminal was a coal-handling port operated by the Peel Group and the site is currently under demolition. It lies south of Fairlie with a jetty that is approximately one mile away from the island of Great Cumbrae. The location of the stricken drillship was approximately two miles from the nuclear intake cooling pipe at Hunterston Nuclear Power Station.

Friends of the Firth of Clyde, a campaigning group who support the sympathetic development of the Hunterston Peninsula in a way that protects and enhances the local environment, have called for an independent investigation into the incident, particularly as concerns were expressed by Fairlie Community Council to ClydePort about the safety of the berthing arrangements prior to the incident.



The VALARIS DS4 drillship which issued the mayday call. Photograph: RNLI/Girvan Lifeboat. No_B07RNLI01

Another drillship, the Enesco DS8, being held in place by tug boats. Photograph: RNLI/Girvan Lifeboat. No_B07RNLI02

Girvan lifeboat dwarfed by the two huge drilling ships. Photograph: Steven Muir, Cumbrae Traffic and Travel. No_B07RNLI03

The Enesco DS8 being secured in place against the jetty by tugs. Photograph: RNLI/Girvan lifeboat. No_B07RNLI04