Positive pointers to the future

The latest activity report from Lerwick Port Authority confirms the growing impact of Covid-19 on harbour operations and Shetland through the first half of this year.

“The impact of the pandemic has been felt increasingly across all sectors and continues to depress operations in the current period, with traffic at the lowest level in a number of years,” said Port Authority Chief Executive, Captain Calum Grains. “However, there are developments amid the downturn which provide some opportunity for increased activity.”

  • The replacement whitefish market, opened in early August, is encouraging steady landings and prices, with full benefits yet to be realised.
  • The arrival of the 14,200 tonne Ninian Northern topside last month for disposal, inauguration of a heavy-duty concrete pad and progressing plans for an Ultra-Deep-Water Quay strengthen Lerwick’s bidding for future decommissioning projects and renewables support.
  • With the international cruise sector working hard to recover from Covid-19, bookings so far for 2021 are strong, although the situation is uncertain.
  • The port is well-placed to service onshore and offshore renewable energy, subject to recent announcements relevant to Shetland.
  • This month’s allocation of blocks for oil and gas exploration, including the northern North Sea and West of Shetland, is also potentially good news for Lerwick longer-term.

Figures released today (7 September 2020) by the Port Authority show that between January and June, vessel arrivals were down 18% on the same period last year at 1,977. They include an 8% increase in fishing boats and a 41% decrease in oil-related vessels, reflecting fewer visits by platform supply vessels and anchor handlers. Overall tonnage fell 37% to 3,453,026 gross tonnes.

Cargo handled was down 15% at 340,272 tonnes, including a 23% reduction in freight for the offshore oil and gas industry.

With only two cruise ships calling – in February and March – in what was expected to be a record season, and ferry passengers on the Aberdeen/Kirkwall route down 70% at 19,520 due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the overall footfall decreased by 77% to 21,019.

All other cruise visits scheduled for the 2020 season have been cancelled, with serious knock-on effects for the Shetland tourism industry.

The ability of the fishing fleet to remain operational during lockdown, albeit on a reduced basis, has lessened the impact on the sector, with 98,746 boxes of whitefish landed, down 16%. The herring season is off to a good start and follows a strong spring mackerel fishery in the first quarter which gave an early boost to pelagic figures.

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