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Unpopular tugs should be back this summer

The tug Solan should be back in action this summer, but for how long? Photo Maritime Journal

TWO new £7 million harbour tugs that were taken out of service after one of them collided with an oil tanker in Shetland should be back in service later this summer.

Crews at the council-run oil port of Sullom Voe refused to work on the tugs Solan and Bonxie after a collision with the shuttle tanker Loch Rannoch in December 2011, just nine months after they were delivered from a Spanish shipyard.

On 22 December the Solan still had a rope attached to the 76,000 tonne tanker when it suddenly lost power and control.

The tanker, which was travelling at five knots, struck the tug on the stern. No one was injured, but crews said the incident could easily have proved fatal and demanded the tugs be immediately taken out of service.

A council-appointed incident panel has taken more than a year to investigate the collision, having been held up after the information from the tug’s black box, or voyage data recorder, proved hard to find.

On Tuesday Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board was told the collision had been caused by an underlying steering problem, which meant that the tugs handled completely differently to the rest of the council’s fleet.

The panel reported two other contributory factors were poor lighting in the bridge that led to the wrong buttons being pressed, and the trainee mate and his supervising master were distracted by problems with the towing winch.

SIC infrastructure director Phil Crossland said the tug’s engine manufacturers had identified a technical solution to the steering problems, which will cost £60,000, far less than the £1 million the council has set aside for the purpose.

However if the fix is successful, the council may still decide to let go of the tugs which have not proved so popular with the workforce.

The tugs use a lot of fuel and are expensive to run at a time when the harbour’s income from the oil industry has steeply declined and is expecting to make no profit for the next three years while BP’s Schiehallion oil field, its main customer, is being redeveloped.

Crossland said: “These are very powerful tugs and the more powerful a vessel is the more fuel it uses.

“I am confident they will be very capable harbour tugs, but we need to have an operation which is as efficient as possible.

“A decision about the future for the vessels is for another day.”

Harbour board chairwoman Andrea Manson said she was pleased with the professional way in which the investigation had been conducted.

“It is clear from the report that there were several factors which led up to the incident,” she said.

“The report, as is required by law, will now be sent to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch for their consideration, but I’m confident that this concludes this long-running matter.”

The report can be read here.

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