SHETLAND Islands Council has made a small profit on the sale of its two largest tugs to an Italian port.
This week SIC infrastructure director Maggie Sandison revealed that while the tugs Solan and Bonxie had failed to reach their market valuation, overall their sale had contributed £70,000 to the council’s coffers.
The two tugs have been a thorn in the council’s side since they were purchased five years ago as part of a drive to reduce Shetland’s oil port to a three tug operation.
The plan failed when the Spanish-built tugs developed handling problems, with crews eventually refusing to board them after Solan collided with a tanker in December 2011.
Since then the vessels have been substantially overhauled to resolve their problems.
Meanwhile the council has decided to return the port at Sullom Voe to a four tug operation using smaller vessels.
Sandison said there had been several expressions of interest in chartering the two 41 metre tugs, but the council had decided to accept an offer from Venice-based Rimorchiatori Riuniti Panfido for their port operation in Naples.
She stated the council had made no loss on the £14 million it spent on the two tugs in 2011.
“The final figure will be reported to the council in the future, but at this stage I am able to say that the sale plus the harbour fees and charges for the use of the tugs during the period they worked here has been fully recovered, with a £70,000 profit,” she said.
Sandison explained the full value had not been attained because of the depressed state of the tug market caused by the downturn in the oil industry.
The very public airing of the vessels technical problems had not helped, she added.
“If we had been another port no one would have known the history of the tugs.”
The upside of a depressed market means the council can charter in tugs at a cheaper rate at a time it is having to think about replacing two of its ageing vessels.
Meanwhile the SIC is holding talks with the oil industry at Sullom Voe to establish their operational needs for the next 30 years.
Sandison said: “There are lots of tugs tied up in ports all over the UK so it’s a very good time to be looking at bareback charters (without crews) and hiring vessels rather than purchasing them.
“Two tugs do need to be replaced very quickly, but given the availability of vessels at the moment and no real expectation that’s going to change in the medium term we are certainly not in a desperate rush.”
Sandison’s department is preparing a report for the SIC’s harbour board to establish how to avoid repeating the mistakes that surrounded the two troubled tugs, which proved deeply unpopular with crews from the moment they arrived in Shetland.
“Certainly involving staff and exploring as many options as possible before making a decision is more likely to ensure we will find a better solution rather than jumping into an immediate vessel replacement,” she said.
In recent months harbour staff have been speaking to tug charter firms and visiting various European oil ports to gain ideas about a way forward.
One option under consideration is sharing a tug with Orkney as a stand in vessel for either of the two authorities’ four tug operations.