Pilots prevented from addressing harbour board on staffing issue

Representatives of the Sullom Voe Pilots Association were barred from speaking at a meeting today which heard that they would be available to provide relief cover for the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) at Sullom Voe.

The two men attended the SIC’s harbour board at Sella Ness which discussed staffing at the port but were told they could not contribute in public on the advice of the authority’s head of legal, Jan Riise.

Infrastructure chief Gordon Green­hill said the men were off shift and therefore were at the meeting as “members of the public”.

The pair were later able to address members of the board in private, however it is understood that they were unhappy at being told they could not talk in the public part of the meeting.

The issue was raised following the incident on 9th August when no-one was available to staff the VTS, which exists to ensure the safe passage of vessels into and out of Sullom Voe. The tanker Moon Lady was waiting to enter the port when the night shift VTSO called in sick. The other operators were either unavailable or uncontactable.

Pilots, who once did shifts as VTSOs, were also contacted but none of the six of them was available either. One was on a ship, one in Scalloway, two off the island and two uncontactable. The day shift VTSO agreed to remain on duty until the tanker was safely alongside, the weather was fine and the port was not busy.

Harbourmaster Roger Moore then completed a risk assessment and decided to suspend the service, a decision he said was not taken lightly. He said: “It left us in quite a predicament.” He also admitted: “It’s not something I would like to see happen again.”

When asked by harbour board member Jim Tait why he, or one of his management team, did not come in himself, Capt Moore ex­plain­ed he was facing a major audit the next day, and other professional staff were training off-island. He said: “It was an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

The suspension of service led Capt Moore to raise three options: continuing with the current five shift system and ensuring that contingency plans are in place to offer a 24-hour, year round service, increase VTS staffing levels or investigate the possibility of reducing the 24-hour operation. This last option did not have the support of the harbour board and the manager of Sullom Voe Terminal said it would not have the support of the industry.

However having more staff to augment the five in the VTS service would mean fewer hours and less remuneration, said Capt Moore. Although potentially pilots could do it the difficulty would be remuneration under single status, he said.

Pilots previously did shifts in the VTS as part of their duties, but this has been removed from their remit under ports for the future negotiations. The qualification of VTSO lasts for three years before needing to be revalidated, and it emerged at the meeting that none of the six pilots has this.


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