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Energy / Seafood industry expresses concern over oil tankers parked offshore

Allowing tankers to shelter so close inshore for weeks ‘flies in the face of common sense and hard-earned lessons,’ the industry says

The fully laden Hovden Spirit has been lying a few miles off Shetland's coastline since 23 January. The photo was taken from Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh, on Sunday afternoon. Photo: John Waters for Shetland News

THE SHETLAND seafood industry has joined forces to call on Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to step up to the plate and take immediate action to stop fully-laden oil tankers from sheltering close to shore.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the council’s harbour board, where the issue is scheduled to be discussed, the three trade bodies representing the various sectors of the isles’ seafood industry – worth in excess of £300 million – have now written to the SIC.

The issue was first raised by former councillor Dr Jonathan Wills in November last year when the Malaysian registered Eagle Bintulu was drifting off Bressay and the Noss nature reserve for two full months after having loaded a cargo of crude at Sullom Voe on 14 September.

At the time the SIC declined to comment on allegations that the SIC was not following its own policies as these tankers were loitering in a ‘precautionary area’ which should only be used to approach the harbours at Sullom Voe and Lerwick.

Now, the seafood industry has called on the council to have this dangerous practice halted.

Chief executive of Seafood Shetland Ruth Henderson said: “An agreement was drawn up for the protection of the marine environment – on which the livelihood of so many Shetlanders depends – so it is quite staggering to us that our council chooses to let this threat persist by not enforcing it.

“To tolerate any laden tanker lying close to the shore (closer indeed than the Braer was before its wreck) over many weeks flies in the face of common sense and hard-earned lessons.

“The consequences of any accident would inevitably be catastrophic for the salmon and mussel producers and the inshore and offshore fisheries which we represent; it would also send out a most damaging message about Shetland itself and its management of our environment.”

Simon Collins of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, who had earlier spoken out in support of Dr Wills’ concern, said immediate action was required.

“We all know that accidents, by dint of human error, severe weather or other cause, happen. We have therefore asked that assertive action be taken immediately to protect local industry and Shetland’s marine environment,” Collins said.

And the chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) Tavish Scott added: “Shetland’s seafood exports are an essential part of the Scottish and UK economies.

“We must ensure that the reputation for harvesting and catching in Shetland’s pristine marine environment is maintained.

“That is one of the fundamental strengths we have in exporting quality all around the world. That is why we ask for decisive action on this important matter.”