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Coastguard News

Casualties in Caithness are thankfully a rare event.  However, because Caithness has such a rugged and precipitous coastline those events that do occur tend to be quite serious in nature.  Here, we will highlight some of the more eventful incidents that have occurred recently.

Battle rages to save floating bomb tanker

One of the UK's biggest ever maritime emergencies unfolded in March 1999 when the emergency services in the north of Scotland fought to prevent a drifting chemical tanker from turning into a floating bomb in the Pentland Firth.

The Cypriot-registered 'Multitank Ascania', carrying 1,750 tonnes of highly explosive chemicals had caught fire 4 miles northwest of Dunnet Head and began drifting towards the tiny coastal village of Skarfskerry.

A total exclusion zone was declared, causing nearby villagers to be evacuated.  Among those moved to Dunnet village hall were 50 school children from Crossroads Primary School.

At it's peak, almost 20 separate agencies were involved in the incident, with the government activating the National Contingency Plan, and the Highland Emergency Plan also swung into action.

Thankfully the incident was contained on this occasion, though it could so easily have become a total disaster.

Tug hero saves nuke plant from floating bomb

The 'Mutitank Ascania' incident brought back echoes of a similar scare that occured in Pentland Firth in October 1997, when the 10,000-tonne tanker 'Yusup K' drifted out of control in force 6-8 winds.

As a full scale emergency unfolded, contingency plans were drawn up for the tanker which was carrying 9,600 tonnes of highly-explosive naphtha.

As the vessel began drifting towards the coast, bosses at Dounreay were alerted and were ready to shut down and evacuate the site.

The all-night incident was the biggest environmental threat to the north coast of Scotland since the Braer oil tanker disaster in Shetland some years ago.

Both the 'Yusup K' and the 'Multitank Ascania' incidents have led to calls made to the government for improved emergency cover in the Pentland Firth, which is one of the UK's busiest shipping lanes, and one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world.

Trawler grounds at Murkle

A crew of 6 were dramatically airlifted off the  85ft Inverness-registered 'Solan' after she ran aground at Murkle Point soon after leaving Scrabster.

Auxiliary Coastguards, Thurso lifeboat and the Sumburgh based Coastguard recue helicopter were called to the scene.

Fears of a minor ecological disaster were dispelled when it became apparent that the 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board was being quickly broken up by the heavy sea.

God will 'Provide'

North-westerly winds pounded a tiny creelboat to pieces when it ran aground west of Ushat Head.

The 36ft 'Provide' from Scrabster broke down with two crew on board in gale force conditions.

A Mayday call was issued and picked up by Pentland Coatguard which scrambled the RAF rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth and launched Thurso lifeboat.

The two men were airlifted off the rocks beneath towering cliffs while Thurso RNLB tood by.

Tragedy so close to safety

Two crewmen drowned after the Faroese-registered 'Sjoborgin' was holed less than a mile out of Scrabster.

A full scale  search was launched for a missing crew member following the discovery of a body in the water by the lifeboat inflateable. 

The crew had desperately tried to return to port, but their attempt ended in disaster just 200yds off the St Ola pier in 25ft of water.

Dounreay foreshore wreck

Thurso lifeboat, auxiliary coastguard and a rescue helicopter were called to Dounreay, following the grounding of the Banff-registered FV 'Arnisdale'.

Attempts by the crew to get ashore by liferaft were unsuccessful, so coastguards put lines aboard and brought all the crew to safety.

The crew were taken to Dounreay Occupational Health Department and treated for shock and exposure.

These are just some examples of the incidents that occur around the Caithness coast. 

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