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Sella Ness workhorses arrive early

TWO powerful new tugs have arrived at Shetland’s oil port of Sullom Voe after a bumpy 10 day voyage from the Spanish shipyard where they were built.

Solan and Bonxie have a bollard pull of more than 80 tonnes, putting them amongst the most powerful harbour tugs in Europe.

The 852 tonne vessels, which cost port operator Shetland Islands Council £14 million, will be able to escort tankers in and out of Sullom Voe for the next two decades when the oil terminal is expected to close.

They were commissioned from the Union Naval shipyard, in Valencia, three years ago before the banking crisis tipped the world into recession.

Now the council which ordered them is being forced to save money as public finances are squeezed and it can no longer rely on the riches from hosting the oil industry.

The council has earned substantial sums over the past 30 years from running the port, but with North Sea oil throughput on the decline the operation at Sullom Voe is having to be slimmed down too.

The council is currently negotiating reduced crews and new shift patterns with its marine staff on the tugs and pilot boats in a bid to maintain the viability of the port.

Harbour master Roger Moore said that Solan and Bonxie were delivered behind schedule, partly to iron out technical problems with their exhaust back pressure and steering.

However the 40 metre long workhorses performed well during their 10 day voyage to Shetland despite running into Force 9 gales in the approaches to the Straits of Gibralter and strong winds in the Irish Sea.

They had to put into the Spanish port of Vigo for two hours to repair a radar on one of the tugs, but otherwise the voyage was trouble free.

Captain Moore said the council decided to buy the new tugs to ensure the port could keep going until 2030. The new design makes them more capable and manoeuvrable than the existing fleet.

“We have got good value for money because the contract and specification was drawn up before the country started to steam into the economic climate it finds itself in. If we were to start today it would have been a different picture,” Captain Moore said.

“I am really pleased they have both arrived safely, because they came up through some horrendous weather. They performed well and there was just one small glitch with the radar on one of the tugs.”

He said he was shocked on Wednesday morning to hear the two boats were approaching Shetland four days ahead of schedule. “We gave them 14 days to get here and they did it in 10, but they had the wind behind them after the Minches.”