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Fishermen round on Total over pipeline dangers

Fishermen in Shetland are being warned of the dangers of posed by Total's gas pipelines in Yell Sound. Photo: Shetnews/Hans J. Marter

SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association (SFA) is warning skippers of the dangers of fishing near Total’s gas pipelines in Yell Sound and is calling on the multinational energy firm to take its promises to the isles seriously.

The fishermen’s body has accused the company of “doing nothing” to make the area safe. It is urging shellfish boats in particular to stay away amid “serious” concerns for vessel safety.

The concerns are due to the amount of rock dumped on top of the MEG (monoethylene glycol) and service lines running adjacent to the main gas pipelines coming from the Laggan-Tormore field west of Shetland.

On Monday, following delays of more than 18 months, Total was finally able to announce that it had brought ashore the first gas as part of a £3.3 billion development viewed as crucial to the UK’s energy security.

But fishermen have become frustrated by a “lack of action” from Total after more than three years of discussions.

A series of trials were undertaken involving whitefish and shellfish boats, which resulted in damage to gear.

SFA executive officer Simon Collins said: “The rock dumps on top of the pipelines reach up almost four metres, posing a major obstacle to boats that trawl or catch scallops in Yell Sound.

“On the basis of the trials that our boats carried out we felt it was necessary to caution skippers about the dangers.

“Meanwhile, our efforts to persuade Total to take action to create safe crossing points for vessels have really got nowhere.

“It’s time for Total to take seriously its own promises to the community and Shetland’s long-term prosperity.”

SFA chairman Leslie Tait said: “A lot of our small scallop vessels fish this area, especially in winter, especially in bad weather, and the fear is that they pick up a lot of these boulders, ending up with top weight and stability problems.

“There also can be issues with hydraulics and blown motors of winches due to over-stressing.

“We were promised that this issue would be settled by creating areas where fishermen could cross the pipeline, but that hasn’t happened.”

Many inshore boats operate in Yell Sound because of the good quality fishing grounds.

Gary Leask, skipper of the 13m Kestrel, which has twice suffered gear damage in trials, including hydraulics, said: “We are concerned about snagging on the pipe and also the quantity of rock that is down there.

“For a smaller boat the weight of rock could lead to you capsize in the worst case scenario. It’s dangerous for the inshore fleet to be fishing over.”

Figures from the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway show that the MSC-accredited scallop fishery is worth around £1.9 million to the inshore fleet.

In response, a spokesman for Total said that there had been “extensive public consultation” on the installation of pipelines passing through Yell Sound.

No objections were raised, the spokesman said, and the pipelines were then installed in accordance with the relevant permits from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

“Concerns were later raised by the SFA about near-shore vessels being able to trawl in the Yell Sound,” the spokesman continued.

“Total have been actively engaging with the SFA to explore these concerns. Total funded the SFA to carry out studies and trials in July 2015 to examine the issue and invited them to propose solutions based on the results of those trials.

“We have yet to receive any proposal from the SFA in regard to possible solutions following these trials. Total have been seeking meetings with the SFA since those trials took place and to date we have received no response to our invitations.”

Collins was angered by that response, saying it was Total that had caused the damage and “responsibility for fixing the problem lies with the oil company, not the fishermen”.

He said previous laying of pipelines in Yell Sound had caused some disruption but no ongoing impact on fishermen’s activites.

“It has been very different this time around with the pipelines that Total have laid,” Collins continued. “We have provided all the information Total requires to help it act, but instead of engaging with its responsibilities to the community it is clear that this massive international company prefers to blame inshore fishermen for what it has done.”

It is understood that the SFA continues to await a response to its latest letter, sent in the second half of January, from Total.