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Council / Hopes that direct contact will end ‘worrying practice’ of tankers lying off coast

Council convener Bell ‘really pleased’ with response from oil industry

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 END appears to be in sight for the issue of oil laden tankers loitering off the coast of Shetland after the council moved to remind the vessels to stay away from local waters after picking up oil.

Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board chair Andrea Manson said vessels will formally be asked to stay away from the coastline after leaving Sullom Voe Terminal.

Council convener Malcolm Bell, who had been involved in talks with the industry, said he was “really pleased” with the response from companies involved.

Concerns have been raised in recent months over the potential environmental risk of tankers full of oil lying south of Lerwick, sometimes for weeks, until moving onto their destination.

The practice was a new one, having not happened in the prior four decades through industry collaboration, and although it does not break maritime regulations Shetland Islands Council sought a solution.

The local authority had faced criticism for not doing more on the issue, but councillors were told at a recent meeting that a collaborative approach with the industry was needed.

The council’s harbourmaster will now be writing to tanker owners, agents and skippers of vessels coming into Sullom Voe to remind them to stay out of the 20 mile precautionary area after they leave.

Convener Bell had been tasked with speaking directly to the industry, such as Sullom Voe Terminal operator EnQuest.

He said: “I was really pleased with the response we got from the oil industry.

“They were at one with us in their desire to protect Shetland’s environment and ensure that the custom and practice of the past 41 years is maintained.

“I am satisfied we have resolved the recent worrying change in practice by working in partnership with the oil industry.”

Manson said: “In the future the sailing instructions to the master when they leave port will be that they leave the islands’ waters, and we will go back to how it has been for the last 40 years.”

The North Mainland councillor said it was perhaps through ignorance that some tankers had been lying off the coast in the last few months.

She previously told a meeting of the harbour board that it was felt the Covid pandemic had potentially created the situation, with tankers waiting off Shetland until the oil price had risen, or when more storage became available.

Industry body Seafood Shetland had previously criticised the council for not taking immediate action to rectify the situation.

Speaking on Friday (26 February), the group’s Ruth Henderson said: “We are very pleased to hear that the council has achieved a sustained return to the agreement with the Sullom Voe partner oil companies relating to tanker traffic heading to/from Sullom Voe.

“This is critical for Shetland.”