Members of the council’s harbour board were in deadlock yesterday over whether the authority should buy a leased tug for Sella Ness.
It took the casting vote of chairwoman Andrea Manson to back the purchase of the 32-metre, two-year-old Multratug 29, which has been chartered to the SIC since April.
The 2-2 vote came despite the tug getting a ringing endorsement from those charged with operating her.
Tug skippers Frances Fraser and Colin Alderson have been growing in confidence with the tug since she was “bare boat” chartered.
Members were asked to consider whether they would recommend to the full council that the vessel be bought for £7.6 million.
However, Allison Duncan urged matter be held back until January. He cited concerns previously raised by his North Mainland counterpart, Alastair Cooper – who did not attend the meeting – and called for a more “detailed and comprehensive report” to be compiled.
The meeting heard concerns that the council might lose out should the tug service be put out to tender at a future date.
“Councillor Cooper’s proposal was that he would rather wait until January to see a full business case,” he said.
But depute leader, Steven Coutts – speaking after a detailed presentation from acting harbour manager John Smith – said he had heard enough to be reassured.
“If there’s a motion I will propose an amendment recommending the council exercises its right to purchase,” he said.
“The technical aspects of this tug were never in question. The question was on the financial aspect and whether this is the right time to be procuring a tug.
“But I’m reassured we’re not going to change things tomorrow, and that this tug is going to be required for a good few years yet.”
He added there was a financial saving, and the tug was fit for purpose.
In the vote he was backed by Ryan Thomson, while Stephen Leask sided with Mr Duncan.
Debate over the tug had initially gone before the policy and resources committee. But questions were asked about why the harbour board had not been consulted on it first.
Ms Manson said it was right for questions to be raised by the board.
“One of the reasons I asked for this special meeting was because, to be left out of the consultation process when we, as the harbour board, would be the ones that carry the can if something goes wrong,” she said.
Board members were perhaps naturally cautious, given the recent difficulties experienced with the now departed Spanish-built Solan and Bonxie, which the council bought in 2007.
However, pilot Michael Irvine said Multratug 29 had already proven her worth, and was regarded as “excellent”, adding she had performed very well in trials. He added the skippers had become well used to operating her.
“It’s as if that tug has been there for years,” he said.
“It would seem to me the obvious thing to retain that tug, if possible.”
Mr Irvine said the skippers had managed to “get up to speed” with the new vessel without difficulty.
The tug is being regarded as a replacement for the Tirrick, which was sold to Greek buyers in June and has now left the council’s fleet.
A report by Mr Smith stated the tug “meets service specification and has demonstrated satisfactory performance”.
A business justification case attached to yesterday’s papers stated: “A full performance appraisal of the vessel has been undertaken and will continue to be updated as her time in service extends.
“There have been no operational issues highlighted or suggestions that the vessel has not met our performance specifications, rather that the vessel has in most cases exceeded both the specifications and expectations of sea staff.”
The backing from operators means the recommendation will go to the full council to buy the tug after six months of operation on 25th October.
The purchase would be funded through the fees and charging structure within the harbour account “and therefore not impact on the council’s financial position”.