Councillors are to be asked to consider increasing the number of staff in port control at Sella Ness after the incident earlier this month when Sullom Voe was closed to shipping for a night for the first time in 33 years.
The night shift operator of the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) called in sick on 9th August and cover could not be arranged, so after the day shift operator had stayed on to help guide in the tanker Moon Lady the port was effectively closed, although emergency contact numbers were issued.
The incident prompted senior seafarers at the port and former council director of ports and harbours Captain George Sutherland to voice concerns about safety. Almost £1 million has been cut from annual running costs through job cuts and changes to working practices under the Ports for the Future initiative.
In a report to be discussed by members of the SIC harbour board at their next meeting on Thursday, harbourmaster Captain Roger Moore urges councillors to let him investigate and instigate any “reasonable” options to provide appropriate cover and support him in training additional staff in the operation of VTS.
He offers three options for consideration: increasing current staffing levels for VTS; maintaining current levels but ensuring cover is in place to cover absences and allow a year-round, 24-hour service; and reducing the 24-hour cover.
Capt Moore believes any reduction in cover at Sullom Voe would be a “detrimental step that would reduce the ability to maintain and attract business” and lead to an “overall reduction in the numbers of safety checks in place”.
Any increase in staff numbers would require authorisation from the council’s executive committee because current council policy is that no new posts should be created unless there is a specific need.