PORTS REVIEW 2021
NO-ONE could reasonably accuse Aberdeen Harbour of being a latecomer to the north east. It’s been operating for nearly 900 years, having been first established in 1136, making it the oldest continuously operating business in Britain.
It has seen ups and downs over the centuries, but its best days may be yet to come. It is in the final stages of a £350 million Aberdeen Harbour Expansion Project (AHEP) that will secure its future, taking it into the low carbon age and making it the largest berthage port in Scotland, accommodating vessels of up to 1,000 feet.
The harbour is already the major commercial hub for the oil and gas industry in the region and the eighth largest of its type in the world in terms of the volume of business it services.
It also provides lifeline ferry services to the Northern Isles as well as other commercial shipping traffic, modular decommissioning work and even expedition cruises, making it a UK leader when it comes to the number of vessels handled.
The number of arrivals is over 6,000 a year, with more than three million tonnes of cargo handled and a gross vessel tonnage of over 22 million tonnes. By anyone’s standards, these are impressive numbers. One of the main purposes of the new harbour extension, commissioned in 2016 and due to be opened in phases by around the end of this year, is to adapt to the shift to renewables and decarbonisation.
“It’s the largest marine infrastructure project underway in the UK – a project of national significance and critical from an economic development perspective,” says Michelle Handforth, the harbour board’s CEO.
“It will also be a green port in that we’re putting in loads of features that mean we will be able to decarbonise into the future, so we will be very much at the leading edge of energy transition and the provision of new fuels and services. We are very much plugged into the Scottish Government’s ambitions on net zero.”
Many of the incorporated features in the new port, she adds, will not be available at other similar facilities around the country. “We have the benefit of being able to put this in because it is new construction. A lot of other places are going to have to retrospectively reconfigure their infrastructure for the future, but we have been able to design it in.”
She adds: “In particular, we will be able to support the renewables industry and the hydrogen and circular economies. We will have the capability to service different kinds of fuelling in the future, whether that be liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen or through electrification and ship to shore power. That’s why what we are doing is really significant strategically.”
Aberdeen Harbour is already a global port with no less than 37 international shipping connections and it must be able to compete in an increasingly decarbonised market. The port expansion will include no less than 125,000 square metres of new laydown area, 1400 metres of new quay and a water depth of 10.5 metres.
Following the opening, the economic impact of the harbour in the north east will be significant: it will contribute more than £1.2 billion of gross value added (GVA) as well as some 7,000 new jobs, increasing to 15,000 by 2035. It will also help Scotland’s ability to service new renewable energy projects in the future, including those attached to ScotWind, the first round of leasing for offshore wind farms in Scottish waters for a decade and a critical part of plans for the country to meet its emissions reduction targets.
But with so much of the port’s activity currently revolving around the oil and gas sector, will this work not be lost as the world moves away from hydrocarbons? Michelle Handforth does not believe so.
“We actually don’t see any loss of business at all as the oil and gas sector is transforming. We are seeing huge shifts in the way that the industry is responding to the need to decarbonise.” There are real opportunities, she points out, in producing oil with a lower carbon footprint.
“Also, the global demand for hydrocarbons is going to continue as it is integrated into many aspects of the way the world functions, from pharmaceuticals through to fuel and plastics, it’s stitched into everything we do.
“We are working very closely with our customers in this area to determine how we can provide logistics and supply chain services that will help them. We also work very closely with the renewables industry, which is very excited about the capacity that we are going to bring onstream.”
The harbour is working closely alongside other organisations including Aberdeen City Council, Opportunity North East and Scottish Enterprise to determine how it can play its full part in the move to net zero.
“A lot of companies are dependent on the port for their success. We sustain many, many businesses both in the supply chain and for our primary customers in the energy sector,” Ms Handforth says.
“The cruise industry is also going to be very important for the local economy in the future and we will need to service that with decarbonised solutions in areas such as water, logistics, fuel and supply chain support.
“These areas really provide an opportunity for the North East to grow and flourish. We are going to have a lot of solutions that are ready for delivery to these businesses and industries in the coming years.”
Ms Handforth continues: “Decommissioning of existing North Sea infrastructure is also a key sector for the harbour and the wider local economy, and the facilities that we have are absolutely perfect for servicing the renewables industry. The size and scale of projects in this sector are huge and the new port has been built with that in mind.”
Keith Young, the Project Director for the expansion, concedes that building the new facility has been challenging. “We are effectively putting in place a new harbour in what is probably the major civil engineering project in Scotland at the moment. “It is going to have a turning basin of 300 metres and the channel will be 165 metres in width. It really will change the scale and the size of the vessels we are going to be able to accommodate.”
The facilities, he adds, will be highly adaptable and fully able to support activities around the energy transition as it scales up in the future.
“We’re in the heart of the city and what we are providing isn’t just for now, but for the next generation and the one after that. I’m very optimistic about the future.”