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Council / Seafood industry demands action on tankers now

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

QUESTIONS have been raised asking why Shetland Islands Council is not enforcing local agreements reached with the oil industry and is instead hoping for talks to resolve the issue of fully-laden tankers lying uncomfortably close to shore.

The council’s harbour board heard on Wednesday that the best way forward to resolve the issue was a collaborative approach involving the industry.

As such, the harbour board, council convener Malcolm Bell was leading talks with the oil industry.

Following the board meeting, the local seafood industry said the lack of action on behalf of the many local industries that depend on a clean environment was unacceptable.

Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson said: “We were delighted to hear John Smith, the council’s head of infrastructure services, state that local agreements should be applied.

“This would clearly include the agreement drawn up with the Sullom Voe partner oil companies which banned laden ships lying close to our shores.

“Why then is our council not enforcing this agreement on behalf of our environment and the many industries which depend on its well-being? We find this lack of action unacceptable and frankly unedifying.”

Since November concern has been growing after tankers started lying close inshore in a “precautionary area” after loading crude oil at Sullom Voe Terminal, waiting for the oil price to rise.

Former councillor and honorary warden of the Noss Nature Reserve Jonathan Wills, who first raised the issue in autumn, said the council’s stance was “pathetic”.

“There is an agreement with the oil industry to keep Sullom Voe tankers 20 miles offshore. It already has the approval of the Sullom Voe Association,” he said.

“So why does the council not just tell them to abide by the rules to which the oil companies voluntarily agreed, 40-odd years ago?

“What has changed? I think we should be told because the spineless charade at Wednesday’s harbour board meeting told us nothing new.”

Henderson added: “We look forward to hearing the outcome of convener Malcolm Bell’s direct approach to terminal operators and we are encouraged by the council harbour board chairperson Andrea Manson’s commitment to have a resolution with two weeks.

“Again, we ask, though, why wait and put our islands at risk? There is an agreement in place. The time is long past to enforce it.”