Management plays down tug concerns

MANAGEMENT at Shetland’s oil port of Sullom Voe have played down concerns about a brand new harbour tug whose engine failed during a berthing operation with an oil tanker at the weekend.

One of two engines on the £7 million tug Solan broke down as she was working alongside three other tugs berthing the Bahamas-registered tanker Penelope on Sunday.


The tanker had to be taken back half a mile to a turning area while the Solan tug crew returned with the stand by tug Shalder.

The berthing operation was delayed by at least one hour, but flat calm conditions ensured the entire operation was concluded safely.

The engine was fixed on Monday and Solan returned to service, however crews have warned of safety concerns with the tug and her sister vessel Bonxie, saying they suffered continuous problems with handling and steering since they arrived in Shetland six months ago.

One senior crew member said on Monday: “It was a lovely day, they couldn’t get better conditions. Had it been December or January you would be looking at a different situation.”


The crews believe the two new 40 metre tugs, some of the most powerful in Europe, have inherent problems with the propulsion unit and the shape and size of the hull. They were completed at the Valencia shipyard, in Spain, last year to a bespoke design.

“This is a bit more than teething problems. It’s genuine safety concerns we have got here,” the crewman said.

However harbourmaster Roger Moore insisted this was the first time either of the new tugs had experienced a problem working with a tanker in the harbour.


“Even the most reliable engines in the world will occasionally throw you a curve ball and that’s why we have a back up tug and procedures in place,” Captain Moore said.

“This is the first problem that we have had with the engines that I am aware of during a sailing or berthing procedure. The technical team has sorted the problem out and the tug is back in service.

“We have had problems with older tugs in years gone by that don’t seem to draw as much attention.”

Captain Moore said that some of the tugmen had concerns about the new vessels, while others were “quite happy” with them.

Tensions are high at the council-run port, with the 48 tugmen being balloted on industrial action over new working conditions that employers are trying to implement to save money as oil throughput declines.

The port is run as a commercial operation and the council aims to raise £4 million a year from its operations.