THE Marine Accident Investigation branch have refused to commit to carrying an independent probe into the Hunterston drill ships incident.

The organisation has responded to the community council's call for an independent inquiry and say an investigation would fall under the powers of the flag country of the Valaris DS4 ship which is the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands are chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and the Philippines.

A spokesperson from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said: "The branch is conducting a preliminary assessment of this incident’s causes and circumstances and is liaising with the flag state of the vessels concerned.

"Under international protocol it is foremost the responsibility of the flag state rather than the coastal state to conduct an investigation.

"However, it is too early to determine whether or not the branch will carry out a full investigation."

Fairlie community councillor Rita Holmes says she is stunned at the news.

She added: "We are calling on them to fully investigate this serious incident involving the two drill ships at Hunterston. I am shocked, that the Marshall Islands State, which is thousands of miles away, could be conducting an investigation into something that happened 900m from our village.

"Fairlie Community Council are calling on the Marine Accidents Investigation unit - a branch of the UK Government - to carry out an independent probe given the seriousness of this matter on doorsteps. So much for local democracy and determination."

Local councillor Tom Marshall said: "The Marine Accidents Investigation Unit seems to be washing its hands of it as this early stage by saying it is protocol for the responsible flag state to carry out an investigation, and as the UK is not the flag state, and these vessels belong to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, the responsibility falls to them.

"It is an interesting development and we need to see where it goes. I am very much of the opinion that Peel Ports as the Port Authority and the owners of the jetty means that there needs to be some sort of investigation if they are going to be keeping these boats moored up there.

"Of course, there has been planning permissions to operate Hunterston Terminal as a port going back to 1974 when the iron ore terminal was built so they can pretty much do what they want in terms of it being a port - but they have to do it in a safe fashion."

Councillor Marshall added that North Ayrshire Council has limited powers because the incident happened in the open sea area, which is under Marine Scotland's protection.

A Peel Ports spokesman said: "As an ongoing multi-agency investigation involving ourselves as the harbour authority, the maritime and coastal agency and others, we are unable to comment on the findings at this time. When the report is concluded and the incident finalised we will be in a position to form a panel of enquiry."