Tayside’s port business has been booming in the past six months, with the industry set to expand following more major investments.
While the downturn in the offshore oil and gas sectors may have created challenging market conditions, bosses at local ports are working hard to ensure they have the best possible infrastructure in place to attract a diverse range of customers.
The ports of Dundee, Montrose and Methil have had a great first half of 2017 with expansions of quayside areas, new cargoes and growth in the decommissioning sector.
Firth Ports, which own numerous ports across the UK, including Dundee and Methil, teamed up with the Montrose Port Authority to create a trio of ports that will become a ‘World leading hub’ for the decommissioning industry. Multiple multi-million pound investments have seen all three ports upgrade and construct facilities to support this new workload.
Both Montrose and Dundee are becoming more involved in the cruise ship industry too, as Montrose is set to welcome its first cruise ship in 2018 and Dundee’s number of departures and passengers are on the increase year by year.
Cargoes at all three ports are also on the rise as they have seen a surge in more general cargo, as local businesses have helped with the growth of the ports by upgrading and adding to their abilities quayside to handle a wider and larger range of cargo at the ports.
With Dundee port currently playing home to four oil rigs, some of which are ready for decommission, the new industry could provide up to 7,500 jobs for locals and, with the summer season upon us, the cruise ships will soon be sailing along the Tay again.
Stuart Wallace, chief operating officer from Firth Ports, said: “The Port of Dundee is enjoying a period of investment and growth.
“The construction of the new £10million quayside at the port is well underway and, when completed later this year, the quayside, with its heavy lift capability, will position the port at the forefront for the North Sea oil and gas decommissioning and offshore wind sectors.
“We are working closely with Dundee City Council and DC Thomson through our consortium Dundeecom to ensure that we succeed in developing the City of Dundee as a centre of excellence in this emerging market.
“The port also routinely hosts some very large North Sea structures in the form of the jackup rigs that regularly transform the city’s skyline.
“There are currently four in the port, reflecting the capability of the River Tay and the port when it comes to this type of rig.”
“General cargo at the port has also grown in the past year, with the port attractina new general cargo tenants, as well handling and drying thousands of tonnes of barley during harvest season, reflecting the importance of the port to the local agricultural sector.
“There is also growth in the passenger cruise sector in Dundee and the port will see cruise liner visits increase from 10 in 2016 to a planned 14 this year, with further growth expected upon the opening of the V&A Museum of Design in 2018.
“Passengers can board a ship at Dundee and cruise to destinations such as Iceland, the Baltics and the Fjords as well as the Scottish islands.
“Cruise operators and passengers alike are seeing the exciting things that are happening in the city at the moment.”
An on-going investment programme by Montrose Port Authority and local support companies is helping ensure the port builds on its position as a leading east coast cargo handling and offshore support centre.
Following on from a major investment of around £15m in the past few years to deepen and upgrade berths on the south and north sides of the harbour, an ambitious new £5.2m project will get underway shortly to redevelop two further berths on the north quay.
The redevelopment will strengthen and deepen berths seven and eight and will help ensure the port is well placed to handle the increasingly important oil and gas decommissioning market.
Deeper berths and greater quayside operational working space will make the port an attractive option for companies looking to set up a decommissioning base.
Nik Scott-Gray, Montrose Port Authority chief executive, said: “We see decommissioning as being a major growth sector over the coming years and this is why we are investing in our infrastructure to make Montrose an attractive option for companies working in this sector.”
For oil and gas, Montrose port has already developed a strong reputation as a major chain handling port due to the spacious working areas on the quayside.
Local companies are playing their part too in enhancing the port infrastructure, with Rix Shipping (Scotland) Ltd having invested in two major storage and handling facilities for agri-bulk cargoes. Whyte Cargo Handling has also successfully completed a new warehouse to help support their cargo operations.
A cruise ship is also scheduled to visit the port in 2018, which should boost the local economy and help Angus and the wider area become an international tourist destination.
“It will bring new opportunities to develop the considerable tourism potential of the area,” adds Mr Scott-Gray.
There is also a bid to reopen the Montrose railhead, which would help transform the port into a versatile multimodal hub covering road, rail and sea.
Improved road links to the main A90 dual carriageway are also seen as being essential to ensure economic growth.
Mr Scott-Gray says: “The port has successfully combined general cargo and offshore energy operations, giving greater flexibility to customers and ensuring a broad spectrum of support services within the harbour area.
“The Tay Cities Deal provides further opportunities to help support this development strategy.”
The development work, which will commence in autumn 2017, will also include the provision of a new heavy lift pad to complement other heavy lift facilities on the north quay.
Mr Scott-Gray also said: “This latest upgrade will complement our other deepwater berthing and heavy lift capabilities completed over recent years and will also ensure that we can handle an even greater range of cargoes.”
“Montrose is strategically placed on the east coast of Scotland as cargo handling centre for the European market and this is a message we are keen to get across to as wide an audience as possible.”
It is anticipated the refurbished berths will make the port an attractive option for companies looking to set up a decommissioning base.
Montrose port is enjoying another good year of shipping traffic and the port has seen a steady increase in agribulks, particularly barley and rape seed, as well as good volumes of steel, timber, fertiliser and cement.
Oil and gas continue to be significant businesses for the port with anchor handlers, platform supply vessels and survey vessels all adding to the mix of vessels handled and going from ports around the North Sea rim, such as Holland, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic.
Methil is one of the smaller ports operated by Firth Ports, but it will play a vital part in Dundeecom support for Dundee.
The port will be a key plank in helping transfer platforms to barges so they can be transported to Dundee for decommission.
Mr Wallace said: ‘The Port of Methil provides marine support to the ultra-deep water anchorages which are being offered as a virtual port for heavy lift vessels.
“Decommissioned platforms can be transferred from these vessels onto barges in the anchorages for onward transfer to the decommissioning facility in the Port of Dundee.
“This allows Scotland to bring a decommissioning offering that matches the Norwegian fjords.”