HC Deb 14 January 1980 vol 976 cc615-6W
Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's involvement in the operations relating to the Spanish tanker, "Butaseis", off the South Devon coast beginning on 28 December 1979.

Mr. Tebbit

The 1,152-ton Spanish tanker "Butaseis", carrying a cargo of liquid butane gas from Le Havre to Vigo in Spain, took shelter from bad weather in Torbay on the night of 27–28 December. This is a normal procedure for small ships. The "Butaseis" anchored about a mile from Brixham breakwater.

Shortly after 0800 hours on 28 December fire broke out in the after accommodation and all her crew were forced to abandon ship. However, before leaving they were able to operate the ship's inert gas system to reduce the possibility of fire spreading.

The burning vessel was towed away from the Brixham area by the Cypriot merchant ship "Deneb" and the Brixham pilot vessel. A call from the coastguard for further assistance was answered by the Royal Navy. A Navy Sea King helicopter was scrambled from RNAS Culdrose and HMS "Anglesey" and the Naval tug RMAS "Typhoon" were sailed from Plymouth. "Typhoon" re-established the tow during the afternoon which had previously become separated from the "Deneb" and moved "Butaseis" further from the coast.

A Royal Navy fire-fighting team which was put on board later that same day reported that the fire was out of control. Specialised foam fire-fighting equipment was summoned and it arrived during the afternoon of 29 December on board the Naval tug RMAS "Robust". The fire was put out by midnight on 29 December. Local fire brigade officers also assisted with the fire-fighting.

The "Butaseis" could not be taken into port for repairs until she had been declare safe by my Department. In order to carry out inspection safely it proved necessary, because of the adverse weather conditions, to tow the vessel into Mounts Bay, Cornwall. She was declared safe on 2 January and was towed, still under Naval control, to Plymouth—the nearest port with a suitable vacant berth.

Although the fire had burned in the accommodation and engine room in the after part of the ship for over 36 hours, the cargo area was not affected in any way. Even had the fire penetrated to the hold, the safety features built into the "Butaseis", including the pressure relief and venting arrangements, were designed to obviate any risk of explosion.

However, this in no way detracts from the courageous efforts of those involved both in the initial tow of the burning vessel away from the Brixham area, and in the extinguishing of the fire.

Rear Admiral Stacey, the director of my Department's marine pollution control unit, monitored the operation and maintained contact with all those involved—including the naval salvage officers and the owner's representatives.

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