By JOHN ROBERTSON
Too little effort is going into attracting new business to the council-run port of Sullom Voe while Orkney Islands Council pulls in lucrative trade to its harbour at Scapa Flow, the SIC harbour board heard this week.
The failure was highlighted recently when a tanker that was refused entry to Sullom Voe to tranship oil did it at Scapa Flow instead, prompting questions about whether Orkney accepts ships of poorer standard or if Shetland’s standards are too high.
The tanker episode apparently took place in December when the ship was rejected under BP’s tanker vetting rules drawn up with the SIC to keep dodgy tankers away from Sullom Voe.
It was raised on Monday by councillor Rick Nickerson who is concerned the SIC is losing valuable revenue from the growing trade in ship-to-ship transfers of crude.
He told the SIC harbour board that 10 ship-to-ship transfers had taken place in Scapa Flow last year and business is expected to double to 20 operations this year. “Are their standards less than ours?” he asked. Port operations manager Barry Edwards was not prepared to comment.
Mr Nickerson and the rest of the board agreed that standards should not be compromised but neither should there be unnecessary barriers to trade at Sullom Voe. The council is supposed to be striving to win new business for the port but despite having been given assurances from SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad that work is going on behind the scenes he felt it was “not happening”. He persuaded the board to put the issue on the agenda for discussion at every one of its meetings from now on.
Board chairman Alastair Cooper agreed there was a lack of pro-active effort going into chasing new business. He called for a report on why ship-to-ship transfer business was bypassing Sullom Voe. Councillor Iris Hawkins suspected there simply was not the interest in chasing new business by those involved.
According to Orkney Harbours, which is the council’s harbour department, the practice of ship-to-ship transfers has been taking place in Scapa Flow for nearly 30 years now with millions of tonnes being transferred each year. In 2006 there were 14 ship-to-ship transfers. Cargoes of 300,000 tonnes are regularly transferred into a single tanker for export. The practise enables the owners of cargoes to package their oil purchases together in one big ship. In 2007 the world’s first commercial transfer of liquid natural gas took place in Scapa Flow. Last month four very large and laden crude tankers were anchored in Scapa Flow to await custom and were expected to stay for up to 90 days.
A party from the SIC port operations headquarters at Sella Ness was recently down in Orkney to hear about Orkney Harbours’ operations. SIC head of service and harbourmaster Roger Moore told the harbour board the council in Orkney had been “more aggressive” in seeking new business but also had the advantage of a vast natural harbour where many big ships could lie at anchor. “We don’t have a lovely big bay like that,” he said. Because all these ships were present it had resulted in the spin-off of several ship-to-ship transfers. Helping to generate business is the marketing manager recently taken on by Orkney Harbours on a two-year contract. The new work he brings in pays his salary.
Another long-standing area of concern for Mr Nickerson was the presence of shuttle tankers off Gulberwick where they lie at anchor until required to pick up oil from the Foinaven field west of Shetland. They used to ship it straight to Orkney’s Flotta terminal but the contract was terminated to cut costs and the oil is now shipped direct to market. Mr Nickerson told the board he wanted to know what the emergency plan was should a shuttle tanker have an accident involving oil spillage. He said Mr Goodlad had assured him he would get information but he had not seen anything yet and he now wanted the matter taken before the Full Council. “I’m getting bounced from pillar to post here,” he said.