The two Sullom Voe tugs which have been berthed at the port for more than a year since a collision with a tanker will soon be back in operation.
The Solan and Bonxie were modified recently by having fins added to correct their steering problems, and now perform as they should, according to interim harbour master Colin Reeves.
Mr Reeves said he was “relieved” that the Spanish-built tugs, which cost £7million each, have had their “directional stability” problems fixed. The council set £1.1million aside for the work, but cost only around £60,000 for the modifications to the two vessels. This involved having four fins fitted to the vessels’ hulls, and was done at a dry dock in Leith.
Mr Reeves said: “We’re relieved we’ve got something sorted, no-one was certain if the modifications would work and we’re all happy they do. It’s good news, and it cost considerably less than originally feared.” The Solan had gone to Leith first, he said, and when it became clear that the extra fins had solved the problem, Bonxie followed.
The 40-metre tugs, the largest and most powerful ever to be at the terminal, with a bollard pull of 70 tonnes, never performed satisfactorily since they arrived, newly built, in 2011. Crews complained they could not steer in a straight line and they were taken out of service in December that year, after near-accident in which Solan lost power when towing the empty tanker Loch Rannoch, clattering along the side.
No-one was hurt in the incident, which crews said could have been a “nightmare”. But it was serious enough to leave the two 40-metre vessels, idle for more than a year.
Councillors branded the situation a “fiasco” as the terminal’s tugs from the start of the 1970s oil boom had to continue to be used. Now that Solan and Bonxie have returned to the fleet, they will practice towing other tugs and then work in conjunction with them. It takes four tugs to berth a tanker on arrival and two tugs to manoeuvre a departure.3
Mr Reeves added that the number of tugs needed for the port was now being decided in the light of the extra lifespan of the terminal, which may extend to 2050.
He also said that “potential redress” against the Spanish boatyard which built the tugs is being “looked at”.