A positive start to activity at Lerwick Harbour at the beginning of this year has been overtaken by severe downturns caused by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of oil and gas prices.
Lerwick Port Authority chief executive Calum Grains said: “The double blow has hit all sectors, with the ongoing impact being felt throughout Shetland, reflecting the harbour’s role in the islands’ economy.”
Statistics released today (Monday 11th May) show in the three months to end-March, vessel arrivals were down three per cent at 1,015, compared with the same period in 2019.
There were fewer fish farming vessels, less pilotage movements and oil-related arrivals fell. Tonnage of total vessels reduced 0.4 per cent to 1,952,522 gross tonnes, including a 15.3 per cent drop in oil-related tonnage at 277,617 gross tonnes.
Oil-related cargo rose by 10.5 per cent to 11,022 tonnes due partly to delivery of anchoring equipment for storage prior to later installation offshore. Overall cargo was down 4.6 per cent at 165,060 tonnes, with less carried on roll-on/roll-off ferries operated by Serco NorthLink on the Lerwick-Aberdeen routes and lower freight outbound for the oil and gas industry.
Despite a boost in February and March from two early-season cruise ships with 1,499 passengers – 70 per cent up on the same quarter last year – total footfall at the port fell by 13.7 per cent to 18,220.
Covid-19 restrictions implemented in March, limiting passengers on the ro-ro ferries to Shetland residents, key workers and essential travel, meant numbers were lower by 17.4 per cent at 16,721.
With reduced demand from overseas and from UK caterers, the 48,462 boxes of whitefish landed were down 21.5 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2019.
Mackerel got off to a good start for the quarter, with a positive outlook for the herring fishery and autumn mackerel season.
Capt Grains said: “The statistics demonstrate the harsh facts and the seriousness of the situation, not just for the port, but also the local supply chain.
“We are seeking to alleviate the effects wherever possible and to look to the future, but there is limited scope meantime among so many unknowns.
“When the time is right, the safe lifting of restrictions would allow completion of our new whitefish market, sustaining and developing the fishing industry.
“New operating protocols will undoubtedly be required by the hard-hit cruise industry before resuming sailings.”