A Very Busy Year for Orkney’s Marine Services

The popularity of Kirkwall as a cruise ship destination continues to grow.

Kirkwall waterfront 3

There were 137 cruise ship visits to Orkney for the 2017 – 18 season  bringing 116,465 passengers to our shores. This meant the revenue from the port calls increased by 21.4% amounting to £1,962,823.

cruise ship dataCurrently EU citizens have freedom of movement and so for those outside the EU the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)  conducts face to document checks. Due to the numbers involved this is not a problem. If the UK leaves the single market of the EU freedom of movement will also go. 

Orkney’s Ferry Services

Stromness Nature cruise 1For Northlink Serco , the Hatston ferry service showed very little change, however, there was an increase of 14% for freight. This was mainly on the Aberdeen route.

Stromness ferry service which plies the route across the Pentland Firth to Scrabster on the Scottish mainland increased by 15.5% for passengers but for freight it had declined by 18%. 

There are no figures in the annual report from Marine Services for Pentland Ferries because it uses the Trust Port of St Margaret’s Hope. The figures only cover OIC’s Harbours.

ferry numbers

Ship to Ship Transfers

The annual report from Orkney Islands Marine Services also showed that   there were 32 Ship to Ship (STS) oil transfer operations of crude oil, against a target of 12, and one Ship to Ship transfer of Liquefied Petroleum Gas in Scapa Flow . This involved 67 vessels and  brought in an income of  £1,278,311. This was an increase in revenues of 123%.

STS Scapa Flow

The revenues for Scapa Flow Oil Port amounted to £9,336,380, an increase of £453,315 with the trading surplus of £4,082,100 going into the council’s Strategic Reserve Fund with £80k  into the Repairs and Maintenance budget.

Orkney has a Waste Officer and all this increase in marine activity means that the collection of waste has also increased significantly. It has also meant that the services of Orkney’s pilot boats has been required more. There was an increase in pilotage of 14.5%.

Gavin Barr, Executive Director of Development and Infrastructure Services said:

“I am extremely proud and grateful to the Harbour Master and his team for the comprehensive services which are provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to keep our lifeline ports open, and to generate substantial new marine activity which not only ensures that we cover costs and provide a return to the council reserves, but also contribute to creating new opportunities and benefits for private business across the Orkney supply chain.

“We are mindful that, although oil related activity in the Scapa Flow Oil Port has shown strong growth performance with regards to STS operations and offshore platform moorings, the bedrock of traditional Flotta operations is expected to potentially decline slowly over the next decade or so. The diversification into STS, deep-water mooring and a range of other possible opportunities such as LNG bunkering and supply has to remain an essential area of our business development.”


The cruise ships which call in all require pilotage, Ship-to-Ship operations required 2 or 3 pilots and the accommodation rigs required the pilot being on board for 3 or 4 days. 

Orkney Islands Marine Services is responsible for towage within its waters and these vessels are requiring an increasing amount of repairs as they age. These are to be replaced. The staff employed in this sector are extremely skilled. 

In its conclusion the report states:

” In the past three years, over £11,400,000 has been transferred from operating surpluses into the Council’s reserves and a Miscellaneous Piers and Harbours repairs and maintenance reserve of some £6,000,000 has been strengthened.” 

There are many costs to be met including  continuous improvements to Orkney’s harbours infrastructures and vessels. 

Kirkwall’s Flood Wall – only one of many improvements being made

Councillor Graham Sinclair, Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Committee said:

“The figures presented in the annual report are a strong 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 – market conditions and strong marketing and business development functions have come together to make this possible.

“I’d also pay tribute to our hardworking harbours staff, who’s strong record of safe and successful operations has cemented Orkney’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with in highly competitive international marine services circles. This is exemplified right across the team – from harbour operations staff who respond, often at just an hour’s notice, for STS services – to the Environmental unit who are often asked to report internationally on their work.

“The current surplus levels indicate that the Harbour Authority will continue to be in a financial position to contribute substantially to the reserves –  but it is vital that we also use our funds to develop and maintain our harbours infrastructure to ensure that operations remain safe, that lifeline services and the more remote piers are not forgotten and to diversify activity to ensure that the harbour continues to be a major driver for Orkney.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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