It may seem hard to believe, but a decade has passed since the arrival of the new millennium. Instead of our annual review, this year JIM TAIT has been delving in the archives to look back on an eventful decade. This week, he covers from 2000-2004. Next week, it will be 2005-2009.
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Millennium heralds big investments
The millennium was much trumpeted, with the appointment of an “officer” in the isles to oversee the special planning for the event, but when it finally arrived it was generally felt to be a damp squib, or at best little more exciting than the regular New Year celebrations.
There were many, of course, including some in The Shetland Times’ own newsroom, who took issue with the date, believing that the 21st century should begin on 1st January 2001.
But the world did not end, no aircraft fell from the sky, computers failed to catch the feared millennium bug, emergency planners breathed sighs of relief and beacons, firework displays, music and drinking heralded the start of 2000. The only bug which did appear to happen was a flu-like one, with many would-be revellers confined to their beds for several days.
There was good news for the West Mainland at the beginning of the year when the Lottery Fund granted £250,000 towards a new leisure centre at Aith. Plans were already well in hand for the project, which would complete Shetland Recreational Trust’s network of venues around the isles. Whether another centre was really necessary has still not be proven, but there is no doubt that increased sports provision has benefited many in the isles. As former SIC director of leisure and recreation and councillor John Nicolson has said on more than one occasion, it was one of the better decisions the council made.
A fire onboard the Burra fishing boat Be Ready at the end of January dominated local and national news as pictures from the rescue helicopter showed the crew abandoning ship in gale-force winds. Hero of the hour was skipper of the nearby Mizpah, David Robertson, who with his crew managed to get a liferaft to the burning boat after attempts to winch the men off had failed. All those involved were full of praise for Mr Robertson who, later in the year, was to receive several awards for his seamanship.
The repercussions of the biggest story of the previous decade, the grounding of the tanker Braer at Garths Ness in Quendale, were still rumbling seven years on. In March the government decided not to pursue claims totalling some £3.5 million, leaving the way open for partial payments to be made on other outstanding claims. Some 200 individuals and businesses whose claims had been approved, including crofters, fishermen and salmon farmers, were now in line for receiving their money. Over £2 million was paid out in May.
The Braer incident may not have been the “disaster” portrayed in the media – no-one died, the very sea conditions which caused the grounding cleared the oil fairly quickly and many people benefited financially – but it could have been much worse and prompted the council to launch a campaign for year-round emergency tug cover for the Northern Isles. Director of marine operations George Sutherland, who witnessed the incident first hand, presented a report on the merits of the plan and said he did not think maritime professionals required any more evidence of the need.
There was much gnashing of teeth when the SIC’s trading company Shetland Leasing and Property Developments Ltd (Slap) agreed to invest £1.5 million in offshore oil services company SBS Logistics. Representatives of local businesses met to discuss the effect the investment would have on them. Slap board members are councillors and a report into the feasibility of the plan was prepared by SIC officials, but in a bizarre move councillors argued that Slap was a private company and its actions were of no concern to the public.
A few weeks later Slap agreed a £5 million loan towards a £6 million expansion scheme at the Lerwick pelagic factory Shetland Catch. This one went down somewhat better.
The first steps were taken towards a major restructuring in the upper echelons of the council, with a proposal, emanating from chief executive Morgan Goodlad, to create three large departments mirroring the committee structure. The merits or otherwise may be revealed later.
The 20th Shetland Folk Festival was another outstanding success with the appearance of perhaps the biggest name in the history of the event – television personality Rolf Harris. In a memorable concert at Clickimin he treated the audience to all his hits, and also proved his versatility by playing a Shetland tune on the accordion he had just learned earlier in the day.
A major overhaul of plant at the Sullom Voe Terminal, due to begin in 2001, was outlined. Up to 500 additional workers would be needed for the work, which was likely to take around two months.
Visitors from around the world, including 90 from Australia and New Zealand, arrived for the Millennium Hamefarin, taking part in a week of entertainment of tours around the isles and catching up with relatives and friends.
The country’s most decorated lifeboat coxswain, Hewitt Clark, retired after 35 years service with the RNLI. During his distinguished career he won three bronze medals, a silver medal and a gold medal for gallantry.
Mr Clark joined the Lerwick lifeboat as a 19-year-old in 1965, and became full-time mechanic the following year. His first bravery award came three years later, when under coxswain John Sales the lifeboat escorted three Norwegian fishing boats in difficulties 65 miles south-east of Bressay. The crew spent 12 hours at sea during the same gale which claimed the Longhope lifeboat the following day. Mr Clark said the weather that night was the worst he ever encountered.
He took over as coxswain in 1979 and the rescue of the yacht Hermes of Lune in a force nine gale off Skerries in 1982 brought him the first of three bronze medals. His second came after he saved three men from the Peterhead trawler Boy Andrew in 1989, seconds before the vessel sank. In 1993, following the rescue of the Fraserburgh boat Ardency and her crew of six in atrocious conditions 16 miles off Bressay, a third bronze was awarded.
Taking off 60 crewmen from the wrecked Russian factory ship Pionersk in 1995 gained Mr Clark the RNLI’s silver medal, and the dramatic Green Lily rescue in November 1997 resulted in the highest award, the gold medal for bravery. The ship was wrecked off the east coast of Bressay in a violent storm and five men were taken off by the lifeboat. Ten men were airlifted by the coastguard helicopter before winchman Bill Deacon was tragically swept overboard and drowned.
Mr Clark was made an MBE and later memorably took part in the television programme This Is Your Life.
The final bids from the three companies interested in providing the Northern Isles ferry service were submitted to the Scottish Executive at the end of June – from NorthLink (a consortium of CalMac and the Royal Bank of Scotland), current operator P&O and Serco Denholm. NorthLink subsequently won the £70 million contract and immediately announced it would be placing an order for three brand new ferries with a Finnish shipyard.
There was a warm welcome to Lerwick for the Southern Actor, a restored Norwegian whalecatcher, and former whalers from throughout the isles crammed into the Town Hall for a civic reception and rekindling of days in the southern ocean.
In a controversial move, the SIC development committee decided to give a grant of £200,000 to Shetland Seafish, in an attempt to keep the company’s Ronas fish factory open. The decision created a wave of protests, particularly in the light of the council’s treatment of another company, Shetland Sea Trout, and the full council later sensibly overturned the decision.
The proposed bridge from Lerwick to Bressay was backed by the isle’s community council, local councillor Bertie Black and well over half the 208 respondents to a questionnaire and a petition was handed in to the council calling for a referendum on the issue. Full steam ahead for the fixed link? Not if a certain port authority had anything to do with it!