Oil supply problems on Islay

Several blogs and national media reported about the problems of getting oil to the Isle of Islay to keep the distilleries supplied and running including the BBC website. These problems of delivering oil and the problems of the Bruichladdich pier itself already occured in the wintertime during heavy storms but now even the good weather doesn't seem to bring a solution. Last weekend the tanker, unable to approach the pier because of the low tides, was anchored in Loch Indaal for three or four days while the oil reserves at Gleaner Oils near Bruichladdich were running out. So close and yet so far away. For a better understanding of the problems I have attached two stories that were printed in the Ileach on Saturday 26 May.

It is now apparent that contrary to what the Council told Cllr Currie last December, while the weather certainly contributed to the winter difficulties, it was simply an excuse that was bound to be exposed eventually. What happens now is anybody’s guess. In the short term, fuel will have to be brought in by road, and happily we now have two ferries serving the island and Caledonian MacBrayne therefore have the capacity. The Ileach understands that it will require around 14 road tankers a week to keep the distilleries running, probably more in the immediate scenario of zero reserves on the island. But then what? Bring in a dredger every month to clear the silt that will continually build up? Find another double-hulled oil tanker that can somehow deliver the requisite amount with a shallower draught? Redesign the pier so that it works? Abandon the pier altogether and concentrate on bringing in fuel by road? All these solutions will of course cost serious money. The current fiasco has been funded by a combination of the taxpayer and Islay distilleries paying a premium for their fuel. Who will pick up the bill this time? Mark Reynier, the Managing Director of Bruichladdich Distillery whose office overlooks the pier put it succinctly. 'This is a *censored*-up of monumental proportions.' he told the Ileach. Does every cloud have a silver lining? If the short term fix of bringing in fuel by road and ferry continues (by far the likeliest scenario as we head towards next winter) then it will of course become impossible to deny Islay a significantly improved winter ferry timetable. Everyone agrees (including CalMac) that the current winter capacity is inadequate. There is no way that an additional 14 tankers a week could be accommodated. Is there a light at the end of every pier?

The Ileach has been passed the following letter which has been circulated to the Islay distilleries by David Todd, the general manager of Gleaner Oils. Its content and tone are self-explanatory but distillery managers that have spoken to the Ileach have had nothing but praise for the efforts of the Gleaner staff on Islay who have been working extraordinarily hard, often during very anti-social hours, in an attempt to keep the lid on what has been a steadily deteriorating situation. The full text of the letter reads:

Quote: As per my recent e-mails, can I provide a further update on the position regarding fuel supply to Islay:The ship is still scheduled to load on Friday 25th May 2007 for a weekend (Sunday) delivery. However, the weather at present does not look exceptionally good for Sunday and there is now a further complication of very low tides coupled with a high degree of silting resulting in the ship will only carry 200tonnes of fuel oil. On docking on Sunday this should cover demand through to midweek.In the interim, where ferry space is available, Gleaners will continue to road feed fuel to try and cover to the end of the Whisky Festival period, but we have to clearly state that we cannot guarantee supplies of Medium Fuel Oil to the distilleries from Monday 28th May 2007 onwards. Gleaners are as frustrated as anyone with this issue. We need to get regular loads of 800 – 1000 tonnes of fuel oil ship fed back onto the island once again, and this needs Shell and Argyll & Bute Council to address the silting issue. Shell Supply, who is visiting the island at present, is working on other alternative shipping arrangements and we will keep you informed of progress. Unquote

It has been clear for some time that, despite official denials, something has been very wrong with the delivery of oil by sea to Islay. Ileachs with even a passing knowledge of going to sea in ships could see that the oil tanker ‘Keewhit’ (which is the vessel for which Bruichladdich pier was rebuilt at the behest of Shell), was not arriving anywhere near fully loaded. Persistent 'rumours' about technical problems at the pier brought an official denial from the Council following an enquiry by Islay Councillor Robin Currie in December 2006.It is inconceivable in the context of Mr Todd’s letter that the Council statement 'Shell/Gleaner are more than happy with the works at Bruichladdich' (Ileach 9th December 2006) was correct.

This story was published with kind permission from The Ileach - Community Newspaper of the year.

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