The positive start to activity at Lerwick Harbour at the beginning of 2020 has been overtaken during the first quarter of the year by the severe downturns caused by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of oil and gas prices.

Captain Calum Grains, Lerwick Port Authority Chief Executive, said: "The double blow has hit all sectors, with the ongoing impact being felt throughout Shetland, reflecting the harbour's role in the islands' economy."

Statistics released today (Monday 11 May) show in the three months to end-March, vessel arrivals were down 3.0% at 1,015, compared with the same period in 2019. There were fewer fish farming vessels, less pilotage movements and oil-related arrivals fell. Tonnage of total vessels reduced 0.4% to 1,952,522 gross tonnes, including a 15.3% drop in oil-related tonnage at 277,617 gross tonnes.

Oil-related cargo rose by 10.5% to 11,022 tonnes due partly to delivery of anchoring equipment for storage prior to later installation offshore. Overall cargo was down 4.6% at 165,060 tonnes, with less carried on roll-on/roll-off ferries operated by Serco NorthLink on the Lerwick-Aberdeen routes and lower freight outbound for the oil and gas industry.

Despite a boost in February and March from two early-season cruise ships with 1,499 passengers – 70% up on the same quarter last year – total footfall at the port fell by 13.7% to 18,220. Covid-19 restrictions implemented in March, limiting passengers on the ro/ro ferries to Shetland residents, key workers and essential travel, meant numbers were lower by 17.4% at 16,721.

With reduced demand from overseas and from UK caterers, the 48,462 boxes of whitefish landed were down 21.5% compared to the first quarter of 2019. Mackerel got off to a good start for the quarter, with a positive outlook for the herring fishery and autumn mackerel season.

Captain Grains said: “The statistics demonstrate the harsh facts and the seriousness of the situation, not just for the port, but also the local supply chain. We are seeking to alleviate the effects wherever possible and to look to the future, but there is limited scope meantime among so many unknowns.

“When the time is right, the safe lifting of restrictions would allow completion of our new whitefish market, sustaining and developing the fishing industry. New operating protocols will undoubtedly be required by the hard-hit cruise industry before resuming sailings.”

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