The Sullom Voe Terminal is the largest oil and gas facility in the United Kingdom. Located in the Shetland Islands at a latitude of 60 degrees north, the terminal was originally built to receive oil from the then newly discovered North Sea oil fields back in the 1970s. Today Sullom Voe also handles oil coming from the west of Scotland.
Maritime support services at the oil terminal are the responsibility of the Sullom Voe Harbour Authority. These activities require a fleet of four tugs, which since 1996 has consisted solely of Voith Schneider-propelled vessels. Looking to replace the two older tugs, the Harbour Authority issued a tender in 2016 for two second-hand vessels. This resulted in the purchase of two Damen ASD 3212 tugs from Dutch company Multraship Towage & Salvage.
The 2015-built Multratugs 29 and 30 entered service in the Shetland Islands in May 2017 and April 2018 respectively. Sullom Voe Harbour Authority technical superintendent David Hopwood and operations manager Kevin Main talk here about the switch to ASD propulsion and the necessary training provided by Multraship.
Can you outline the work of the Sullom Voe Harbour Authority?
Kevin: Our work involves all the harbours within the area of the Shetland Islands. For the oil terminal we deal primarily with mooring and pilotage operations for export tankers, always using four tugs to assist inbound tankers and two for outbound movements. The majority of these are Aframax size, but include smaller and larger vessels too. We also carry out ship-to-ship operations within the harbour with vessels up to ULCC size.
Can you tell us something about the move to ASD propulsion?
David: It wasn’t a conscious decision to change to ASDs. In fact, we were looking at the second-hand market but there were no Voith vessels at that time. Moreover, being a local authority means that we were constrained by local government and European rules to issue an international tender. Our assessment of the Multraship tender (comprising the two ASD 3212 tugs) was that this was the best available – not least because they gave assurances of a training programme.
What did Multraship’s training programme include?
Kevin: All in all we identified nine elements of training to make the transition from novice to competent ASD tug masters. We put all 36 of our staff through certain elements of that training, with the majority completing all nine elements. A significant part of the training offered by Multraship was in their simulator. And then, after three days of simulator training, this streamlined neatly into the next step of hands-on training. Our staff worked on Multraship vessels in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Terneuzen under the watchful eye of the training masters. This allowed us to reach a level of confidence to be able to go back home to Shetland to take on the next phase of training.
The Sullom Voe Harbour authority’s involvement with Damen goes back 41 years when the fledgling Harbour Authority ordered three Damen mooring boats. All three of these vessels are currently still in operation.
What was your experience of Multraship’s training programme?
Kevin: We gained experience of a very slick towage operation. From the perspective of the masters and the engineers, the ‘live’ on-the-job training involved various types of manoeuvers with numerous types of ships in different situations – many more than we would experience here. Our masters came home full of praise.
David: I would like to add a huge thanks to Multraship for supporting us because they were absolutely super.
How important was local training back in the more exposed waters of the Shetlands?
David: Yes, the conditions are more exposed, but our guys are used to this. It was more a question of getting as much hands-on experience as possible. Training here was more like immersion training. Building confidence rather than actually learning specific tasks. This was related to the time spent at the wheel of the vessel with the training skippers for support. Moving forward we would like to see this as a continued cooperation with Multraship.
How do the new Damen Tugs ASD compare with the older Voiths?
David: It’s not really fair to compare like with like because the old tugs were built in 1986 and the new ones in 2015, so a certain amount of improvement is expected. For example, the old tugs had 45 tonnes of bollard pull while the new tugs have twice that. The feedback from the pilots about this is very good; they don’t use the extra power that often, but they like having it at hand.
We also hear from our crews that they can lay down power with very little noise and very little vibration. This is a significant improvement – it means that crews can communicate by talking instead of shouting. Visibility was also an important specification in our tender, and this is very noticeable on the Damen boats. The visibility from the wheelhouse is second to none.
How do you see your operations at Sullom Voe developing in the future?
Kevin: With the Damen name attached to the tug there is always that degree of confidence that we were buying a very capable tug. However, we still have a feeling that we could be doing a bit more with the tugs themselves. Bow-to-bow operations is an example of this and that’s what we are looking at going forward.
The names of the Sullom Voe Harbour Authority’s four tugs come from the local names of seabirds found in the Shetlands. The two Voith-Schneider vessels are Tystie (black guillemot) and Dunter (eider duck). The two Damen ASDs are Tirrick (arctic tern) and Shalder (oystercatcher).