Call For Independant Investigation As Drill Ships Break Loose From Hunterston Jetty

8th February 2021

Five weeks ago two massive 250m long drill ships Valaris DS4 & DS8 arrived at Hunterston Jetty for warm stacking for an unspecified period of time. Just four weeks later communities surrounding the jetty were shocked, but sadly not entirely surprised, when both vessels broke their moorings in high winds followed by a 6 day battle in atrocious weather to secure them back at the jetty. The incident raises important questions about this specific incident, and we ask what does it tell us about the suitability of the jetty for activities proposed in the Hunterston Master Plan?

On arrival of the drill ships concerns were expressed by Fairlie Community Council (FCC) to ClydePort about the safety of the berthing arrangements. The jetty sits approximately 1km from land and is approximately 400m long. this was shorter than the 2 vessels, DS4 was berthed half on half off the jetty with the anchor deployed in an attempt to secure the bow.

Aside from the length of the vessels, the windage, i.e. the side of each boat above the water line subject to wind, is significant at approximately 8,800m2. Katabatic winds are well known in the area and wind speeds exceeding 80kts are not infrequent. Indeed, it was the quality of this wind that made the adjoining construction area the site of choice for testing the giant off shore wind turbines that were recently demolished. The weather conditions of the area, combined with the removal of the gantry cranes, which gave some cover, raised questions about  the impact of forces that boats of this size would experience if exposed to strong Easterly winds.

Compare the situation at Hunterston with that at Faslane, which is a very sheltered port operated by the Navy under the Queens Harbourmaster, they allow conventional ships in berths 1 and 2, however vessels with a windage of >3,500m2 must move off the jetty in sustained winds of >35kts.

On Tuesday 2nd February 2021, battered by strong easterly winds, a May Day was issued by DS4 which had broken free from its mooring and was drifting without power into the deep water channel towards Great Cumbrae. It soon became clear that a major incident was unfurling at Hunterston jetty as DS8 had also broken its moorings and it was only as a result of a number of chance circumstances and the swift action of the emergency services that  the drill ships were not blown into open water and potentially onto the opposite shores of Cumbrae, with high environmental damage and potential loss of life.  The area around Hunterston is of high environmental value and has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)  and is a rare ecosystem consisting of endangered species protected under OSPAR and the Nature Conservation Act.

To the alarm of onlooking residents in Fairlie, West Kilbride & Cumbrae the serious incident continued, with DS4 held at anchor in the deep water channel and DS8 being held  against the jetty by a group of tugboats overseen by the pilot boat and the coast guard, for a further 6 days until the vessels were returned to the jetty on Monday 8th February 2021.

This incident is of obvious major concern in its own right, but in the context of our well documented fears about the proposals put forward by ClydePorts, as part of Peel Ports and the wider Peel Group, to re-purpose Hunterston Terminal  for Oil Rig Decommissioning and as a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Terminal, it takes on much greater significance and provides evidence that local communities have every reason for serious safety and environmental concerns about the future use of the terminal.

These concerns are compounded by the fact that, as part of Peel Group,  ClydePort have significant commercial and property interests on the Clyde, whilst as the Clyde Port Authority they simultaneously hold  statuary powers  for marine regulation and safety enforcement for the Firth of Clyde.  We believe this presents a significant conflict of interest.

We have written  to North Ayrshire Council and Marine Scotland asking for an urgent independant and transparent investigation:

Asking the following questions:

  • Who authorised the use of the jetty for 2 vessels, where the length significantly exceeded the length of the jetty?
  • What detailed analysis was undertaken and is this documented in a full risk assessment? What formal authorisation processes where put in place by ClydePort?
  • What decision making process was undertaken to allow vessels of this windage to anchor at such an exposed site?
  • What risk assessment was undertaken regarding the event of a complete breaking of moorings?
  • Are there clear enough lines of responsibility for oversight of complex operations when, as in this circumstance, there are many subcontractors involved in the berthing arrangements?
  • What on-going monitoring of the conditions were in place at the jetty?
  • Who is paying for the emergency response and subsequent  investigation?
  • Have these vessels been deregistered as ships and re-registered as barges to reduce the minimum crew requirements of a ship?
  • What type of antifouling is used by these vessels and has this been risk assessed for long lay up?
  • The suitability of the jetty which is 52 years old, and not designed for this activity – what are the implications for similar activities promoted in the Hunterston Master Plan?

We have asked North Ayrshire Planning and Marine Scotland, to recognise that this incident highlights the unsuitability of many activities proposed in the ‘Hunterston Master Plan’ and that the scope of allowable operation needs to be assessed in light of the findings of this investigation.

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