Sullom Voe’s two new tugs which were taken out of service after one of them had a collision with a tanker are likely to remain out of action for some time pending a thorough investigation.
At a meeting of the SIC harbour board yesterday, infrastructure chief Phil Crossland, who the board agreed should have delegated authority for the issue, said the detailed investigation would last “as long as it takes.”
The Spanish-built 40-metre tugs Solan and Bonxie started operations at Sullom Voe last year but were never deemed by tug crews to perform satisfactorily. In December the Solan lost power and was struck by the oil tanker Loch Rannoch during a towing operation.
Both the tugs, which together cost £14 million in the tug replacement programme, have been tied up ever since. Fortunately there are four other tugs at the port to cope with visiting tankers meantime.
Board member Jim Tait questioned why the investigation, started after the collision, was taking so long. He said: “If this was a commercial business it would have been sorted long ago.”
Mr Crossland said a wide range of stakeholders have theories about the collision. “Every theory has to be investigated to get a full and detailed report into the incident.”
Mr Tait questioned what would happen if the port had not had alternative tugs.
Mr Crossland said arrangements would have had to be made. “We have to do this [investigation] thoroughly and professionally. We would be derelict in our duty if we didn’t.”
Board chairman Robert Henderson said: “We have to give officers and officials time to scrutinise everything.” He pointed out that a MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) report takes between 12 and 18 months.
Mr Crossland stressed the investigation was not about apportioning blame but about identifying what went wrong. An initial independent investigation has already been done, he said, but that had to be considered by Sullom Voe’s harbourmaster, pilots and the towage services, and then by other stakeholders. The eventual report would go before the harbour board and a summary will be made public, he said.
The Solan collision on 20th December was the last of a series of problems with the two tugs, which joined the fleet in February last year and which never entered full service due to concerns about their performance and handling.
The incident happened when the Solan was leading the Loch Rannoch out of port and preparing to slip her rope when without warning she lost controls and propulsion. She was struck by the tanker, which was doing about five knots. Thankfully the tug regained her systems and there was no damage or injuries.