The Orkney Islands have an impressive history of weathering the various challenges that the sea (and the invaders it has brought) has thrown against them. Some 5,000 years of human habitation have bred rugged resilience but the recent blow to Orkney’s cruise ship business, with 160,000 potential passengers, has been particularly bleak.

“We had around 170 calls booked for this season of which we had one – then lost the rest because of coronavirus,” says Paul Olvhoj, business development manager at Orkney Islands Council’s Marine Services.

Not only will the pandemic mean a loss of £3 million for Marine Services but – more dramatically – a shortfall of between £8m and £9m for the islands’ retail and hospitality sectors.

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Launched last month, the Orkney Harbours Masterplan points at more positive prospects, outlining the development and future-proofing of the 29 piers and harbours of the port’s estate including Scapa Flow, Europe’s largest natural harbour, with 125 square miles of sheltered water that provides a range of berthing and anchorage options.

And while Orkney is also northern Europe’s preferred location for the ship-to-ship transfer of crude oil, gas and other products, plus the long-term storage and lay-up of tankers and accommodation rigs, the £230m masterplan clearly aims to place the islands at the forefront of a cleaner and greener future for Scotland.

“This will continue beyond coronavirus as the shipping sector is vital to the global economy, something that has been demonstrated in the past few months when the industry kept up the supply of essential goods and remained at full capacity working throughout the pandemic,” says Olvhoj.

Reducing the carbon emissions from industry on both land and sea is the biggest current challenge and he stresses that achieving this through the application of emerging technologies against an acceptable level of cost is key to success.

“By developing strategies around vessel shore power, supporting transition fuels such as LNG (liquefied natural gas) and staying at the forefront of the move toward carbon free fuels such as hydrogen, we can thrive,” Olvhoj adds.

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Phase 1 of the plan has been included in the Islands Deal list of projects with funding commitment from the Scottish and UK governments and focuses on the Scapa Deep Water Quay; Hatston Pier; Kirkwall Pier; Scapa Pier; and Stromness.

Orkney Islands Council, the statutory harbour authority, has overall responsibility for the project which will bring a new facility to Scapa Flow, the Scapa Deep Water Quay. “This will provide a world-class deep-water facility and a huge laydown area for a variety of industries,” he says.

Phase 1 will also provide crucial jobs. “An outline business case has been costed and completed to Treasury Green Book standard and our target is 115 jobs across all the locations involved,” says Olvhoj.

Phase 2 will develop the smaller harbours and piers across the archipelago, particularly those on the other islands that link in with the lifeline ferry services. “This will ensure that they’re fit for purpose for the future and there will be support for the new ferry fleets and better facilities for all our users.”

Orkney, of course, has a vibrant supply chain and is an established test bed for alternative energy, including the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) which plays a key role in proving the value of wave and tidal power as a sustainable source of renewable energy.

Olvhoj sees the masterplan as the ideal opportunity to enhance the levels of innovation and research that have already identified Orkney as a global resource for this sort of leading edge technology. 

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“In Scapa Flow we have a magnificent marshalling base for a whole range of industry operations while technology will be key to achieving our climate change targets,” he says.

“The masterplan will allow us to attract and support other businesses – including retailers and farmers – to demonstrate what an asset Orkney is and what the Harbour Authority can bring to the entire community.”

For more information visit www.orkneyharbours.com

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