Getting into deep water shows scale of ambition


Ports Review 2021

With multi-million pound investment recently doubling capacity at Lerwick Harbour  – the UK’s second largest port for fish landings – optimism is now high that major decommissioning contracts can be won by creating the UK’s only ultra deep-water quay. 

Originally built in 1770 for collecting taxes, Lerwick’s Tolbooth has served not only as a courtroom and gaol but also as a post office, Fishermen’s Mission, Red Cross centre and Royal National Lifeboat Institute HQ.

Similarly, Lerwick Harbour is not only the UK’s second largest port for fish landings … it’s also an incredibly versatile, multi-use hub of industry that enjoys continual investment in and enhancement of its infrastructure.

“Fishing and aquaculture are still the largest economic drivers for the whole of Shetland so it’s vital they thrive and grow,” says Port Authority Chief Executive Captain Calum Grains. “That’s why we continue to invest heavily in new infrastructure, with the latest £7.6 million investment seeing the completion of the white fish market and the doubling of our landing capacity.”

He admits since the turn of the new year and the deal struck between the UK and the EU there have been challenges for the supply chain.

“While we own and operate the infrastructure, Brexit affects the companies that catch, buy, sell and transport the fish; they’re the ones having to deal with the new paperwork. Prices have been depressed and the volumes landed have slumped. However, part of this is because a lot of boats and buyers are being cautious and waiting until the bumps in the road are hopefully smoothed out.” Captain Grains believes, if the logistics can align in the ways the UK and EU require, things will recover.

There’s real positivity, too, in Lerwick’s ability to boost its role in the burgeoning decommissioning sector. “As one of the very few UK ports with the infrastructure to handle really big projects, we have the opportunity to continue being a major player.”

The UK does not have an ultra-deep-water quayside with the ability to take the largest crane vessels: parts are transferred from the ship to a barge then the barge comes into the quayside and the load transferred. “Our ambition is to become the location for the UK’s first and only ultra-deep-water quay.”

He points out there are a couple of such facilities in Norway where a significant portion of decommissioning work from the UK is lost, as ships can go right to the quay and unload, saving time, money and risk.

Lerwick’s new whitefish market has doubled the port’s landing capacity

The good news is the Scottish Government commissioned a study in 2018 to look at the best location in the UK for one of these quaysides.

“They identified Lerwick as the ideal location for this new infrastructure. We’re now working with the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and industry to take this forward and make the project a reality. It has the potential to transform the UK’s capability in the sector. It will be a game-changer and not only for Lerwick and Shetland – but the wider supply chain involved in decommissioning … it’s important for everyone.”

Hand in hand with decommissioning is the growth in renewables and here, too, Lerwick has plans to be a leading player. Its ability to benefit from the green economy will be further boosted with the announcement an interconnector is to link to the mainland, enabling the construction of the Viking wind farm, which should be operational by 2024.

“Lerwick will play a role in facilitating entry for cargo coming in for this huge project. We’ll be a hub for the construction materials and this will give us a lot of experience and knowledge in handling these larger machines, which we’ll take forward as the offshore renewable sector continues to develop.”

While COVID-19 all but temporarily ended Lerwick’s starring role as a destination port for cruise ships in 2020, Captain Grains remains optimistic this important part of port business will recover.

“Lerwick handles about 10% of Scotland’s cruise traffic, but last year was devastating. This year everything depends on the success of vaccines and when people can move again more freely … we have around 100 cruise ships scheduled.”

He points out that, overall, Lerwick Port Authority always takes a long-term view on investments and infrastructure in terms of the returns made for the community and the port.

“2020 was very difficult trading-wise, with reductions in traffic, fish landings, cargo and passengers. Even going into 2021, there is a level of uncertainty over how long the recovery may take.

“So, yes, there are challenges ahead … but in the long term there are also incredible opportunities to be optimistic about.”


Read our full 2021 Ports Review here.


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