Troubled tugs return to uncertain future

The £7 million tug Bonxie with four fitted fins - Photo: Captain Steven gardener/SIC

SHETLAND Islands Council’s two troubled £7 million tugs Solan and Bonxie are being brought back into service having been tied up for almost two years following a collision with a tanker in the oil port of Sullom Voe.

However the council will be considering whether the tugs have a future in Shetland in light of new developments at the oil terminal they service.


The two tugs berthed at Sella Ness last summer - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

The tugs were mothballed when crews refused to board them after the Solan lost power and struck the 76,000 tonne tanker Loch Rannoch in December 2011, less than a year after they were first launched.

At the time crews described it as a “nightmare” incident that could have cost lives.

Modifications costing £60,000 that were carried out on the two tugs during June and July mean they can now steer in a straight line, but further work and crew training is required before they can start work again.

SIC harbourmaster Colin Reeves said the tugs had four fins fitted to the hulls at Leith docks and now steered “as well as you would expect of a Voith tug”.


“They have improved from being very strange to being normal,” he said.

Crews are now being familiarised with the modified vessels, but there will have to be training exercises with tankers before they can be brought back into full service.

Reeves admitted that the tugs were expensive to run due to their powerful engines consuming a lot of fuel, and that the council was considering whether they had a future in Shetland.

Work in progress on the Solan - Photo: Captan Steven Gardiner/SIC

He said a project team was being set up to look into the towage requirements of the oil port in light of new developments offshore that mean the Sullom Voe terminal will stay open at least until 2040, 30 years longer than expected.

BP’s massive new £4.5 billion Clair Ridge development west of Shetland is expected to pipe in a substantial flow of crude through the terminal that will significantly increase tanker traffic at the council-run port.

“It may well mean we want to keep (Solan and Bonxie), but we may well decide the extra power isn’t necessary and we will look at something smaller, we don’t know,” Reeves said.

Two tugs that are unlikely to have a long term future at the port are Tirrick and Shalder, which are approaching the end of their working life.