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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Gemini & Bibby ChallengeScalloway was once Shetland’s capital. Each time I visit I am impressed by its maritime activity and role in the Shetland economy, determined not to be overshadowed by Lerwick, a near neighbour, but on the opposite coast facing the North Sea rather than Scalloway’s wide Atlantic.

I am used to seeing oil service vessels at Scalloway since exploration and drilling increased west of Shetland, but there were none this time, maybe an indication of the downturn in oil activity with the collapse of the oil price. But Scalloway has long been a dormitory for contract workers in the oil and gas business and dominating the harbour were two accommodation units housing workers on a major new gas processing installation at Sullom Voe the site being about 40 minutes away by chartered bus.

Strange that Bibby Line, once a prestigious member of the Red Duster fleet when in its prime, should now be known for such graceless though functional and successful units as the Bibby Challenge seen here, one of several similar craft they operate worldwide. Bibby Challenge has been based here since June 2013 housing 300 workers for BP, but Scalloway’s population has been boosted for over a year by a cruise liner now named Gemini 19,093, ’92. She has had a fairly chequered career under various names for different cruise companies since completed at Valencia by the Union Navale de Levante yard. Here she housed up to 600 workers and is the largest vessel to enter Scalloway Harbour with dimensions of 164 ms by 22 ms.

Gemini, seen here in mid November, was in her last days in Shetland and is due to be chartered as a cruise vessel once more later this year after refit at the Besiktas yard near Istanbul. She was certainly more elegant than the Bibby unit and was often lit overall, cruise liner style, but her departure will not be lamented by some local inhabitants as there were complaints her machinery, especially her generators, was noisy, echoing around the little town on still nights. And a still night must be very welcome in Shetland after so many breezy and stormy ones and it is a shame for it to be spoiled by the vibration, fumes and noise around the clock by a semi-permanent accommodation vessel.

Shetland Bus MemorialFramed by these floating hotels in the Scalloway scene is perhaps an even more valuable element of the modern Shetland economy in the shape of the specialist Norwegian salmon ‘well boat’ Ronja Settler of Aalesund, a reminder that salmon farming is not only of great importance to the Scottish economy, Shetland having a major share of it, but the industry in Shetland is dominated by Norwegian controlled companies. Though they employ many local workers and Scalloway is a major focus for workboats of various kinds engaged in salmon farming and other sea-food businesses.

In sight across the harbour to the left of Gemini are the buildings of the ‘NAFC Marine Centre’. By the early 1980s it was apparent there was a need in Shetland for trained and qualified staff as fishing vessels and the sea-food industries were becoming more sophisticated and international. So a Shetland Fisheries Training Association (SFTA) set up in 1981 would evolve into the ‘North Atlantic Fisheries College’ opened in 1994 to provide training and education in all aspects of the seafood industry. But the range of activities has expanded, including fi shery research and development and to meet growing demand for marine training in Shetland and elsewhere a merchant navy cadet programme was introduced in 2004 to provide training for prospective engineer and deck officers. Hence the college has changed its name to the NAFC Marine Centre and it is a major unit of the University of the Highland and Islands.

It was a pleasure to see MN Cadets in training at the college. Its excellent canteen is open to the public and the foyer has a fine ship model collection. There can be no better atmosphere in which to learn the trades of the sea.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2016 Issue
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