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Marine / Oil-laden tanker departs – but weather is pinpointed as reason

The fully laden Hovden Spirit had been lying a few miles off Shetland's coastline for a number of weeks earlier this year. Photo: John Waters for Shetland News

THE FULLY laden oil tanker which had been moored off the coast of Shetland since January has now moved on – but it is thought to be because of the weather, and not pressure from the community or the council.

The Hovden Spirit is currently a fair bit east of the isles after lingering south of Lerwick, although its latest movements have included a circle and its destination is unclear.

The issue of fully laden tankers lying near to the coast south of Lerwick – a practice not experienced in the last 40 years – has caused concern over the potential environmental impact should an accident occur.

It was the key topic of a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board on Wednesday, with officials stressing a need for a collaborative approach with the industry.

They expect a resolution on the situation soon.

Council convener Malcolm Bell, who has written to Sullom Voe Terminal operator EnQuest about the issue, said it was always expected that the tanker would leave due to the weather.

“We continue to engage with the oil industry to ensure a sustained return to the previous custom and practice whereby tankers departing Sullom Voe sailed directly from Shetland waters,” he said.

Following Wednesday’s meeting Seafood Shetland’s Ruth Henderson questioned why the council was not enforcing the previous “agreement” which saw full tankers leave Shetland without a delay.

But Bell said the council has “no direct legal authority to stop shipping anchoring off Shetland and it’s not helpful to suggest otherwise”.

The change is thought to be down to tankers deciding to wait off the coast of Shetland until oil prices rise, or until there is storage available.

“It is also the case that these tankers do not appear to be in breach of any maritime regulation,” Bell added.

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“However, our community does not want laden oil tankers loitering around our shores.

“We will therefore work in partnership with the oil industry to understand the reasons for the recent change and a return to a practice which has served us all well for over 40 years.

“Councillors are absolutely clear that this practice must resume.”

Honorary Noss Nature Reserve warden Jonathan Wills said in a letter published today (Friday) that for 40 years “oil terminal partners voluntarily agreed to enforce compliance using commercial, not legal, sanction”.

He claimed that “councillors took their eye off the ball and allowed their officials to stop enforcing the deal with the Sullom Voe partners”.

“There is no need for prolonged or delicate negotiations here,” Wills added.

“All Mr Bell has to do is write to the terminal operators, reminding them of the agreement to which they are a party, and requiring them to adhere to it with immediate effect.”

Wills also questioned whether “someone in the council quietly made a new agreement without telling the public”.

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