Tug and pilot boat crews to join search for new business at Sullom Voe

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Tug crews and other sea-going workers at Sullom Voe are to be invited to help win new business and extra income for the council-owned port.

They will sit on the new Sullom Voe Development Group of council managers and employees set up under the chairmanship of new director of infrastructure Phil Crossland.

Pilots and tugmen were annoyed last year when they felt their views on how to run the port more efficiently were ignored by council management during the Ports for the Future review.

But Mr Crossland is keen to have them on board for a fresh look at the deepwater port’s potential. “My view is that the guys who work there have some tremendous knowledge,” he said.

“The point was well made by the unions in negotiations that there are some very experienced, qualified staff up there who have some ideas, so let’s listen to them.”

Other key members of the group will include economic development officials and managers from ports and harbours at Sella Ness and the infrastructure department.

The group is expected to take up to two years to find the right way forward for the future of the oil port which is seeing profits eaten away by rising costs and dwindling income from fewer visiting oil tankers.

Among the areas to be considered are the potential as a base for the renewable energy industry, in particular the storage and assembly of giant equipment needed for onshore and offshore wind turbines and wave and tidal devices.

A previous proposal to site a large drydock at Sella Ness, costing up to £35 million, to service ferries, tugs and fishing boats was eventually killed off due to restrictions on council spending under EU state aid regulations to prevent unfair competition.

Among the options for consideration to cut costs at the port are hiving off tug and pilotage operations to a private company, perhaps one owned and run by the sea-going workforce at the port.

Mr Crossland said he was aware of rumours flying around about the council outsourcing all its functions currently carried out from Sella Ness. But he said: “That’s certainly not top of my agenda.”

He added: “To be honest, the options range from the status quo to full privatisation. But really there are hundreds of options between that which we need to sit down and discuss.”

The pros and cons of each option will be looked at and eventually presented to the councillors for decisions. That day is expected to be about 18 months away from when the group meets for the first time this month.

“We’re not closed to anything at the moment,” Mr Crossland said. “The idea is to be a very open-minded group. The first thing is basically to brainstorm what opportunities are out there. I think ruling things out at this point would be a bit daft.”

The work will not start from scratch with considerable effort having been expended by council officials in recent years on investigating future roles for the port.


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