Lerwick Port Authority says signs are emerging of a brighter post-Covid future, despite the coronavirus crisis having a “growing impact” on its operations.
Alarming figures show vessel arrivals at the port slumped by almost a fifth in the first half of 2020, while overall tonnage has dropped by over a third.
But the harbour authority’s chief executive has pointed to developments giving renewed hope for 2021.
Most obvious is the recent arrival of the 14,200 tonne Ninian Northern topside, along with the inauguration of a heavy-duty concrete pad.
They help progress plans for an ultra-deep-water quay aimed at strengthening Lerwick’s bid for future decommissioning projects.
Meanwhile, the replacement whitefish market, opened in early August, is said to be encouraging steady landings and prices, with full benefits yet to be realised.
Other potential benefits include:
• Strong bookings for the 2021 cruise ship season, despite this year’s slump – although the port authority warns the situation for the future is still uncertain.
• The port is said to be well-placed to service onshore and offshore renewable energy.
• This month’s allocation of blocks for oil and gas exploration, including the northern North Sea and West of Shetland, offers potential opportunities longer term.
Calum Grains said: “The impact of the pandemic has been felt increasingly across all sectors and continues to depress operations in the current period, with traffic at the lowest level in a number of years.
“However, there are developments amid the downturn which provide some opportunity for increased activity.”
Figures released on Monday by the port authority show that between January and June, vessel arrivals were down 18 per cent on the same period last year at 1,977.
They include an eight per cent increase in fishing boats, but a 41 per cent drop in oil-related vessels, reflecting fewer visits by platform supply vessels and anchor handlers.
Overall tonnage fell 37 per cent to 3,453,026 gross tonnes.
Cargo handled was down 15 per cent at 340,272 tonnes, including a 23 per cent reduction in freight for the offshore oil and gas industry.
With only two cruise ships calling – in February and March – in what was expected to be a record season, and ferry passengers on the Aberdeen/Kirkwall route down 70 per cent at 19,520 due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the overall footfall decreased by 77 per cent to 21,019.
All other cruise visits scheduled for the 2020 season have been cancelled, with serious knock-on effects for the Shetland tourism industry.
The ability of the fishing fleet to remain operational during lockdown, albeit on a reduced basis, has lessened the impact on the sector, with 98,746 boxes of whitefish landed, down 16 per cent.
The herring season is off to a good start and follows a strong spring mackerel fishery in the first quarter which gave an early boost to pelagic figures.