The strategy to further develop Lerwick Harbour's role as a deep-water port serving the offshore oil and gas industry, including decommissioning projects, has been reinforced by activity last year.

Traffic figures for 2009, released today, show that the number of larger diving support vessels and construction ships using the harbour increased by 40% to 59, with the gross tonnage up 53% to 459,708 gross tonnes compared to 2008.

Such vessels are a target market for Lerwick Port Authority following extensive dredging as part of a £12 million project in 2008, with the first phase of follow-up construction – two additional deep-water quays - set to commence this year.

The increase was achieved despite a downturn in offshore operations, including supply vessels and support for decommissioning, which saw overall oil-related traffic decrease, with vessel arrivals down 34% at 365 and the tonnage reduced by 27% to 1.1 million gross tonnes.

Arrivals of all vessels were down 4% on 2008 at 5,330, with the tonnage lower by 4.2% at 9.1 million gross tonnes - reflected in a 12.9% drop in cargo handled to 823,753 tonnes, due mainly to the level of activity in the offshore industry.

Lerwick’s key role as a passenger terminal is underlined by a 10% increase to 143,527, with ferry passengers up 5.1% at 119,381 and visitors arriving by cruise ship increasing by 40% on the previous year to 24,146.

Port Authority Chief Executive, Sandra Laurenson, said: “Even with the economic situation having some impact, there were still positive trends for the harbour’s future – for example, as a deep-water and passenger port, and we have every expectation that volumes will increase again.

There are exciting deep-water developments to come west of Shetland, and we are well placed to support the large subsea support vessels which undertake these. Announcements this week of tax breaks for gas developments there and of another licensing round, including blocks around Shetland, add to the positive outlook

“In the cruise sector, we are looking forward to another increase in cruise passenger traffic this year.

“The Authority has held port charges for 2010 at last year’s level to help ensure the harbour’s competitiveness and we remain committed to further development of facilities and services.

“Fish landings held up well in a challenging year, with an increased average price again for white fish. We are pleased that the restructured fishmeal plant at Bressay is performing well and are optimistic that there may be a modest return to landings there.”

Fish landings for the year were 70,397 tonnes, valued at £60.8 million, down on tonnage and value compared to 2008. The main decrease in tonnage was due to a change in operation of the Bressay fishmeal plant, resulting in no blue whiting being landed there last season. White fish at 9,608 tonnes worth £15.7 million, was down 4.5% on volume and 1.8% on value, with the price per tonne, up 2.85% to an average of £1,642 per tonne.

In the pelagic sector, mackerel landings held steady, with an increased value. Herring landings were down considerably due to a very short summer season. Blue whiting landed for human consumption was again a feature. Shellfish landings were at a similar volume to 2008, with a decreased value.

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