Veteran of oil boom back in the game

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PORTS REVIEW 2021

KISHORN Port came into being in the 1970s, as Kishorn Yard, a manufacturing and fabrication yard for oil platforms.

The owner at the time, Howard Doris Ltd, operated the yard from 1975 to 1987. Today Kishorn Port is a 50/50 joint venture between Ferguson Transport (Spean Bridge) Ltd and Leiths (Scotland) Ltd.

The partnership combines the quarrying, concrete and construction materials expertise of Leiths with the port operations, shipping, stevedoring, warehousing and transport logistic skills of Ferguson Transport & Shipping (FTS). Combined, the two companies employ over 700 staff and have an annual and shipping turnover in excess of £70 million.

As Colin Ortlepp, a director at Kishorn Port explains, the chief feature at the Port, the 160 metre diameter dry dock, one of the largest in Europe, was originally constructed in 1975. It was built on the North side of Loch Kishorn, to fabricate the Ninian Central Platform, which was expected to be the first of several large concrete platforms for the North Sea oil and gas sector.

In fact, though the Ninian Central Platform was successful and is still in active use in the North Sea, the industry subsequently turned to steel as the principal construction material for later platforms, making the Ninian virtually unique in the industry. Ortlepp points out that at over 600,000 tonnes, the Ninian is one of the world’s largest man-made moveable objects, one of the biggest to ever move across the face of the Earth.

By 1977, there were over 3,000 people working at the yard, building the Ninian. After 1987, the yard and the dry dock lay idle for several years until, in 1992, the dry dock was re-opened to enable two 17m diameter, 13m high concrete caissons to be manufactured. These two caissons each weighed 2,300 tonnes and today they support the 250m main span of the Skye Bridge. In 2013, Planning and Marine Licencing was granted for the establishment of a renewable energy construction facility at Kishorn.

Permission was granted for the restoration of the quay structures on the site, an extension to the quarry, and reclamation of nine hectares of the coastline. The planning approval included the erection of an accommodation facility, offices and industrial buildings, plus floating load out quays and anchorages for floating offshore renewable and oil and gas structures.

Planning permission anticipated that the port would be used to support the offshore renewables industry and for Oil and Gas fabrication and decommissioning. The quarry at the port is operated by Leiths (Scotland), which supplies a range of quarry materials to local construction projects.

The port and dry dock is identified in Scottish Enterprise’s National Renewables Infrastructure Plan as a potential manufacturing and distribution hub for the offshore renewables industry. The joint owners of Kishorn Port have ambitious plans for the facility and have already made a very significant series of investments in improving and enhancing the port’s facilities and dry dock.

“At the time the partnership was formed, Leiths, which is based in Aberdeen, were operating the quarry adjacent to the dry dock and FTS, based in Corpach by Fort William, were operating a quayside shipping, warehousing and logistics support and supply base facility,” Ortlepp explains.

“Both partners could see a bright future for the port as both a major facility for offshore wind farm developments off Scotland’s coast and for supporting oil and gas activities and decommissioning.

“When the joint venture was formed, the dry dock had been neglected for a number of years, so the first order of business was to invest in bringing the dry dock back into good order,” Ortlepp says.

In addition to improvements to the dry dock gates a ramp down to the dry dock was constructed from the nearby quarry operated by Leiths. Improved pumps and ‘interceptors’ to catch any waste from the dry dock have made it ideal for decommissioning work.

“A lot of decommissioning work uses hard layout areas alongside harbours, but the potential risk there is that you may have pollution of the harbour waters as the decommissioning proceeds,” Ortlepp points out.

There can potentially be areas where waste oil and fuels are trapped and released when the structures are cut up. With the dry dock the waste is contained and pollution and environmental risks are greatly diminished.

“We are looking forward to hosting a significant amount of decommissioning work as we move into the decommissioning phase of North Sea oil and gas activities,” Ortlepp says.

At the time of writing the dry dock was occupied by a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel (FPSO), in for layup and preservation work. The deep water berths at the port are in regular use by vessels for the aquaculture industry including the handling and distribution by sea of fish feed pellets.

“The value put on the decommissioning market, once it really gets underway, is in the multi-millions of pounds and we hope to get a good share of that market. We have already done some ship decommissioning work and we are actively looking to do more of this,” he comments.

2020 saw the arrival of the MV Kaami for down-sizing and recycling in the dry dock along with the FPSO Banff in the deep water anchorage, where support and supply services were provided by the port. The next major project at the port will involve extending the dry dock from its present 160m diameter to 250m, to enable it to cope with even bigger offshore structures and vessels such as FPSOs.

Ortlepp explains that the rock from the excavations that will be required to extend the dry dock will be used to reclaim land that will add another 22 acres of laydown area to the port. Also in the pipeline are plans to extend out from one of the existing quays to deeper water, with heavy lift capacity up to 20 metres water depth.

Ortlepp says: “We have had tremendous support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and from the Highland Council. This is a fragile economic area, so the development of Kishorn Port, allied to its ability to play a key role in both decommissioning and renewables operations, has the potential to create significant numbers of jobs and including apprenticeships.”

There is already a cluster of small industries at the site, with a small brewery and a boatyard, along with two world leading manufacturers of fish cages for the fish farming sector. “We are looking forward to attracting significant new business to the area,” Ortlepp concludes. 

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