Times Past 25.07.08


TENS of tonnes of crude oil have been spilled into the sea just north of the Sullom Voe oil terminal. The spill was noticed at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning along the shore at the north end of the terminal.

Pollution control staff immediately deployed booms and skimmers to contain the spill.

Ferry crews in Yell Sound also saw oil off Toft about an hour later being blown south by the wind and tide.

The oil was thought to be fresh crude mixed with some other substance, possibly dispersant. But after analysis the oil was found to be “weathered crude oil.”

A BP spokesman said the spill was definitely not from the terminal and investigations were continuing to try to identify the source.

One theory which is being discussed is that the oil was spilled from a tanker which had already left the terminal.

The only tanker which left the port on Wednesday morning was the Liberian registered Thyssen, but BP stressed there was nothing which directly connected the spill to any particular vessel.

Estimates of the quantity of oil vary. BP estimates 20 to 25 tonnes, or well over 6,000 gallons.

But director of ports and harbours Captain Bert Flett said on Wednesday that his personal estimate was in the region of 50 to 60 tonnes.

By Thursday morning 20 tonnes of oil had been recovered.

The oil was blown by north westerly winds along the shore at Calback Ness and round into Orka Voe and there were reports of oil in Yell Sound itself.


Whalsay fishermen will be asked during the next fortnight to vote “South Voe” or “North Voe” and the County Council’s future planning will likely be based on the result of the ballot.

It will be recalled that last year the Council decided to go ahead with a pier and breakwater scheme at the South Voe, but this brought opposition from a section of the islanders, who asked that north Voe be considered as a better proposition.

Eventually the Council decided that fishermen only should be asked to give their opinion. Hence next week’s ballot.

For a fortnight until last Saturday a register of fishermen eligible to vote was displayed in Whalsay. As a result of that display several objections were lodged – in some cases appealing against exclusion, in other cases appealing against inclusion. These matters have been decided this week.

In order to give every single man every possible opportunity to record his opinion, the poll is to remain open for two weeks. On Tuesday and Saturday next week, and on the same two days the following week, votes can be cast at no. 2 Alexandra Buildings from 2-4 pm. But apart from that any eligible fisherman can cast his vote at the county Buildings between 10am and 5pm on any weekday, other than Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 29 July to 12 August.

The fishermen are simply asked to state which site they would prefer.

In addition, skippers are asked to sign a declaration stating whether or not they would be prepared to use facilities provided at Symbister.


After an absence of 35 years, a worthy son of the “Old Rock” visited Shetland last week, in the person of Captain Thomas Spence, of Uyeasound, Unst.

Captain Spence will probably be unknown to many of the present generation, but to those who know him he is very typical of the old Shetland sailor who makes up his mind to “get on”, and “reaches the quarter-deck by way of the tar-bucket”.

Thomas Spence is a native of Unst, having been born in Watley, about 1841. His father was Abram Spence, for many years skipper of the old haaf-boat Hope, and brother to the father of Mr John Spence, F.E.I.S., for many years the respected teacher of Nesting Vassa School. Abram was one of those handy men that could “turn his hand” to lots of things. He was a good house carpenter, and an expert hand-loom weaver, and was about the first in Shetland to weave patterns in the web.

His sons – John, Robert and Thomas – had a great love for the sea, but being domiciled far inland, they could only gratify their propensity by boating on the loch of Watley. At last Abram set to work and built a boat which was transported over Vallafield, and set on the Aer of Newgord – a famous fishing station in those days. Here the Spence boys had their first taste of the sea, and practised hand-line fishing to their hearts’ content.

In these far-off days and certainly remote parts educational advantages were somewhat backward; but the Spence boys were fortunate in having a mother whose natural endowments and educational attainments were far in advance of the average woman of her time. She was a daughter of the late Thomas Smith, and sister of Mr Ross Smith, Lerwick, and an aunt of Mr W. Spence Smith, of Smith & Robertson. Betty Smith could discuss the chief events of the wars of Napoleon, the Jacobite risings and the emancipation of the slaves; she delighted to converse on geology and astronomy; and she had the Bible “at her finger ends”. With such advantages of heredity and training, it was not surprising that the Spence boys grew up to manhood with all the best characteristics of the Shetland race strongly portrayed in them.

Captain Thomas Spence, growing tired of the limited experience to be gained by hand-line fishing in an open boat, made his first voyage to Faroe in the old smack Cygnet. His next voyage was to Faroe, Rockall and Iceland, on board the schooner Ariel. Thomas then went south, and joining deep-sea ships he made several voyages abroad in sailers. Speaking the other day to a seaman who had sailed with him in one of these vessels when he was mate, the seaman said: “I never sailed with a better officer in all my life.”

Subsequently Captain Spence changed out of sailing ships into steam, and became an officer in the Gall line, trading from Liverpool to the East. For a number of years he was stationed out at the mouth of the Amazon, where he had command of a river steamer, and sometimes he voyaged up that mighty river for a distance of 1200 miles. Some years ago he returned to Britain for good. Captain Spence has his home in Liverpool, his wife, if we mistake not, hailing from Walls.


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