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Moray Council spends further £450k on hiring ANOTHER vessel to dredge Buckie harbour

The local authority has now spent up to £750,000 in the last year on vessels to do the job of its own dredger Selkie.

Barge with two excavators on it in Buckie harbour.
Diggers are working from a barge in Buckie harbour. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Moray Council has commissioned a second dredging project totalling up to £450,000 to maintain Buckie harbour – despite having its own vessel based in the port.

The latest hire comes just months after £300,000 was spent on bringing in a Danish-registered boat late last year.

The value of the latest project has been unknown for months and was agreed during private talks last month.

The Press and Journal asked the value of the project at the time but the council did not disclose it due to “commercial sensitivities”. The figure can now be revealed after it was published in council minutes.

Selkie moored at Buckie harbour.
Selkie has been unable to dredge Buckie harbour to the required depth. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Meanwhile, Moray Council’s own dredger, Selkie, had a downturn in 2023/24 with just 62 working days – compared to 94 and 77 in the previous two years.

Now the second external hire has been made within months to ensure the authority is fulfilling its commercial contract obligations with renewables firm Ocean Winds.

Why external dredgers are needed at Buckie harbour

Moray Council has been forced to hire external dredgers at Buckie harbour due to Selkie being unable to meet the needs of Ocean Winds.

The renewables firm has chosen the port to be its onshore base for its Moray West wind farm, which is about 13 miles off the coast.

Upgrade works from the company are currently underway on one of the piers with pontoons already installed to accommodate its own specialist vessels.

Papers published by Moray Council say the latest project aims to bring the depth of the harbour channel and basin two to 3.2 metres.

Pontoons at Buckie harbour.
Extra dredging is needed to fulfil the needs of Ocean Winds, who have carried out improvements to one of the Buckie harbour piers. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

Reports filed in May last year detailed the depth as 2.5 metres, which was only increased to 2.7 metres following the “extensive” external dredging project last year.

Minutes published this week have revealed the decision for the additional dredging was taken under the authority of the chief executive, before then being backed by councillors.

Devon-based Keynvor Morlift are carrying out the last works with specialist excavators working from a large barge with rock being dumped into a smaller barge.

Rock on barge at Buckie harbour.
Rock is being removed from Buckie harbour. Image: David Mackay/DC Thomson

The contractors were hired after rocks prevented the basin reaching the target depth last year.

A Moray Council spokeswoman said: “Specialist vessels are being brought in to undertake planned rock cutting in basin two to a depth of three metres.

“The planned works, which form part of the wider project to realise the Moray West offshore windfarm with Ocean Winds, have been communicated with mariners and stakeholders and that engagement will continue throughout, keeping them informed on timescales, which are subject to weather conditions.”

How is Selkie doing?

Selkie continues to carry out dredging duties at Buckie harbour and elsewhere, but concerns continue about its productivity.

Last month Buckie councillor Sonya Warren and Heldon and Laich councillor John Cowe, who represents Burghead, both raised doubts about its output.

Figures published by Moray Council revealed the vessel removed 8,472 tonnes of silt in 2023/24, with 7,092 at Buckie and 1,380 at Burghead.

Boats at Buckie harbour on a calm day with blue sky.
Buckie harbour will remain the priority for Selkie. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

The total is a reduction from the 12,880 removed in 2022/23 and the lower than any of the previous three years.

Moray Council says the reduction is due to the Selkie doing “targeted” dredging in a specific area of Buckie harbour.

However, the 62 days worked in 2023/34 is also lower than the 94 in 2022/23 and 77 in 2021/22.

A staffing review and recruitment process is currently underway to maximise the periods Selkie can operate.

Will dredging by done at any other harbours?

The latest Moray Council report about Selkie stressed dredging at Buckie harbour and Burghead would remain the priority for the vessel.

However, works are planned at Hopeman, Portknockie and Findochty this year.

  • Portknockie: Moray Council says “no specific need” for dredging is required. However, maintenance works will continue and entrance channel and pontoons will be monitored.
  • Hopeman: Land-based solutions being developed to be run alongside Selkie. Inner-basin and channel to both be included.
  • Findochty: Dredging required at entrance channel and middle jetty.