Dozens of emergency service personnel were scrambled to Clydebank last night after the Council’s decision to mark Earth-hour by turning off lights caused mayhem on the Clyde and sparked a diplomatic incident between Britain and France.
The inclusion of the Titan Crane among public buildings ‘going dark’ for the global conservation event caught navigators by surprise and saw a French warship, visiting Scotstoun for repairs, ram the base of the Clydebank landmark. No-one was hurt in the incident but worried members of the public initially feared the crane would topple over.
Police officers, firefighters and paramedics rushed to the scene after a flood of 999 calls from residents of town centre flats, who reported hearing a loud crash followed by the creaking of metal. The incident happened around 9:20pm last night (Saturday, March 31); 50 minutes into West Dunbartonshire’s observance of the annual ‘Earth-hour’.
Although only minimal damage was caused to both the warship and the crane, the French government has reacted with fury – believing the decision to turn the Titan’s multi-coloured lighting system off compromised their national security.
The vessel involved – the Imbécilavril - is the only one in the French fleet equipped with brand new stealth materials that render the ship almost invisible to the naked eye. It had been part of a European Union task force observing traffic in the Arabian Gulf, as part of international efforts to prevent nuclear materials reaching Iran.
With news of its presence on the Clyde reaching Tehran there are concerns the regime could try to smuggle materials past the European fleet, confident France’s hard-to-spot warship is not nearby. A spokesman for the French defence ministry confirmed they have already demanded answers from their counterparts in London.
Commander Edward Teach, a former captain of the frigate Queen Anne’s Revenge, told Clydebank Live: “The crane is lucky to still be standing as the ship would usually be going much faster than it was. Obviously its officers had a feeling something wasn’t right and the captain has ordered his ship slow to a crawl.
“People don’t realise the Titan Crane colour changes give mariners on the Clyde vital information. Red and green tell navigators about port and starboard, the purple and blue colours let them know about water levels and the speed of the current, and the crane itself swivels to tell them about the wind direction.
“Without seeing the Titan it’s very hard to move a big ship up the river and with this one being nearly see-through there wouldn’t be any way for the lighthouse keeper on the Titan to spot it coming and radio a warning.”
The Stratchlyde Police helicopter hovered over Clydebank for over an hour and police cars, fire engines and ambulances raced to the scene. More than 30 emergency service workers responded to the incident before river traffic control officers from Faslane Naval Base were able to tell police what happened and stand the crews down.
Although no-one has been willing to speak on the record a war of words has already erupted between the various authorities involved. French defence chiefs have indicated their belief that the decision to switch off the lights breached Britain’s obligation to provide ships with the means to navigate the river, while the UK Ministry of Defence has indicated West Dunbartonshire Council should have first cleared any change with it.
Sources say Council officers informed the Scottish Government of their plans to switch off the Titan lights, with no objection raised by the transport minister. It has also been suggested the Council was never told of the unique characteristics of the Imbécilavril and so had no way of knowing the lighthouse keeper could not see it with the naked eye or the Titan’s radar.
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