November 23rd 2018

A deal has now been signed for a new pilot launch for Orkney Islands Council's Marine Services.

The design and build contract for the 21.4 metre vessel was secured by Astilleros Armon S.A which has its main base in Northern Spain. Delivery is expected for September 2019.

The name of the new vessel will be decided by public vote in due course.

The Council’s Marine Services team currently operate two dedicated pilot launches, which are based either in Scapa Flow or Kirkwall.

The pilot launches are essential for enabling marine pilots to embark and disembark from vessels proceeding to and from berths and anchorages within the Orkney Harbour areas.

These operations take place day and night in all weathers - the pilot launches need to be highly capable vessels built to high specifications of sea keeping and reliability.

The pilots’ task is to use their extensive knowledge of local sea, weather and tidal conditions, and their extensive experience of handling ships of all types, to bring them safely into port, to anchorages and alongside piers. They perform a similar task when vessels are leaving their berth or anchorage.

The new pilot launch will replace the oldest of the current fleet, the Scapa Pioneer, which was built in 1993.

Brian Archibald, Harbour Master and Head of Marine Services, Engineering and Transportation, said: “Orkney is benefitting from a significant upturn in harbour related activity and it is therefore essential that we continue invest in the equipment and vessels necessary to deliver a safe and efficient service.

“We provide a 24-hour, year-round pilotage service and this is an opportune time to replace our ageing pilot launch. The Scapa Pioneer has served us well but the time has come to replace her with a more modern, capable, and reliable vessel.”

He added: “In addition to considerable tanker traffic linked to the Flotta oil terminal, Scapa Flow is hosting very regular ship to ship transfer operations of crude oil, gas and other products, and has proved to be an ideal location for the long term anchorage of accommodation rigs.

“Orkney is also the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK and received a record number of visits this year – our harbours are busy places and the new pilot vessel will enable us to build upon that success in a safe and efficient way”.

33 ship-to-ship transfer operations took place in Scapa Flow in 17/18, against a target of 12. This generated £1.27m, compared to a projected income of £420,000 – an increase of 123% from the previous year.

Orkney is also the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK and received a record number of visits this year. Cruise liner traffic brought in £1.96m, an increase of 21.4% on the previous year. The 2019 season looks to be even more successful, with 170 port calls planned compared to 140 booked for this year.

Councillor Graham Sinclair is Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Committee. He said: “Orkney has a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in highly competitive international marine services circles and it’s important that the work vessels available to us reflect this. Marine Services strong financial performance this year is a reflection of the benefits that can be reaped by making the most of all the business opportunities that are available through harbour operations in Orkney – especially during times of financial challenge for the Council as a whole.”

Marine Services is also in the process of purchasing two new tug vessels. The design and build contract was advertised on the Public Contracts Scotland website late last year and it is expected that a contract award is imminent.

Three tugs are currently based in Orkney, the Harald, Einar and Erland, which were built between 1989 and 1992. The new tugs will significantly more powerful with a 75-80 ton bollard pull and full escort notation. The tender specification states that they should have an AZT propulsion system and have forward and after winches to accommodate the broad range of towage tasks in and around Orkney.