The on-going saga of the council’s new tugs Solan and Bonxie was branded a “fiasco” by vice-chairman of the harbour board Robert Henderson today as it emerged that a budget of just over £1 million has been set aside to pay for the work needed to fix the tugs.
Mr Henderson asked when a report on the two tugs, which together cost £14 million and which have been out of service all year because of “directional stability issues”, would be available.
Infrastructure chief Phil Crossland told a meeting of the harbour board the results of the on-going tank modelling and simulation tests would be known later this month. A team would go through the results “critically” and the results would be brought to the next harbour board meeting. Harbour board member Alastair Cooper asked for a special meeting if the results came soon, and this was agreed to.
It is the council’s aspiration to have completed the study, made modifications and have the tugs back in service by next month. An amount of £1.065 million has been approved for this work.
The two 40-metre tugs, built in Spain, had problems from the start. Even before their delayed delivery in February last year they had undergone extensive modifications in the shipyard in Valencia.
In Sullom Voe the tugs – the most powerful to be owned by SIC with a bollard pull of 70 tonnes – proved difficult to steer in a straight line and were never deemed by crews to perform satisfactorily.
They were taken out of service in December after the Solan lost power and was struck by the tanker Loch Rannoch during a towing operation. The Solan was leading the tanker out of port and preparing to slip her rope when, without warning, she lost control and propulsion. She was struck by the tanker, which was doing about five knots. Fortunately the tug regained her systems and there were no damage or injuries.
Acting harbourmaster at Sella Ness Colin Reeves said last month that initial testing with a large wooden model had pointed to problems with the new tugs’ steering, and attempts to correct this by altering hull shape and skeg locations were ongoing. He added that propeller manufacturers Voith would provide data collected from the ship at the time of the accident.
The new tugs being out of service meant the council had to hire a replacement tug last month to provide cover while the 30-year-old tug Tirrick was in dry dock.
In a statement the council said: “Given the ongoing investigation into the tugs Solan and Bonxie the decision was taken to hire in a replacement tug, at a total cost of around £100,000, from Orkney Towage.
“This represents the most cost-effective and appropriate means of preventing disruption to the service.”
In June former tug chief engineer Jimmy Smith suggested the new tugs’ problem was some sort of unstable interaction between the hull and the water flow, which made them unable to steer straight when free-running, although they performed well while towing. He said: “There’s something wrong with the water flow over the hull which takes them off to one side. It’s something to do with the propellers and the design of the hull. It’s not going to be cheap to fix.”