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Trilogy of Tradition, Tech and Timing - Odin and Thor of Scapa

Posted inAutonomybyJuliet Dowrick


A trilogy of tradition, technology and precision timing meant that Orkney Islands Council’s (OIC) two new tugs, Odin of Scapa and Thor of Scapa, were proudly flying the UK Red Ensign and preparing for work within just 24 hours of their official delivery to the new owners.

Meticulous planning for the new 32-metre tugs, which replace two of the three older tugs in OIC’s marine services fleet, took place over two years and an early decision was taken to fly the Red Ensign and involve the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s UK Ship Register (UKSR).

Planning is key

“In the same way that we wanted to reflect our centuries of tradition by naming the vessels Odin of Scapa and Thor of Scapa, we also wanted to fly the Red Ensign because it’s the right thing to do. Planning and communication with all stakeholders, including the UKSR, through the whole process has been key to the delivery of the project. And technology played an unexpectedly critical role with the additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said David Sawkins, Deputy Harbour Master for OIC’s Marine Services.

The tugs which cost £6.1million each, were built at Sanmar Shipyards in Turkey and, through the UKSR, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) surveyors were closely involved. Working from the MCA’s Glasgow Marine Office, the surveyors provided essential guidance and specifications to ensure the tugs incorporated the necessary standards of safety and sustainability.

Working together, minimising risk

“We wanted to ensure that our new tugs would be ready to start work without any delays and the working partnerships with the UKSR and the MCA surveyors were brilliant. They provided all the information we needed at key stages so we were able to avoid the risks and costs of delays and remediations at the point of transferring the flag from Turkey to the UK,” explained David.

When the global pandemic hit in spring of 2020 putting brakes on travel, the building work continued thanks to video conferencing. A break in restrictions in July and August meant that an OIC Fleet Superintendent was able to oversee the final trial of the tugs and be satisfied that they would meet the UK’s rigorous standards as a best performing flag on the Paris MOU list.

The scrupulous planning paid off. The tugs made the non-stop 3,500 nautical miles journey to Orkney in just 17 days, making a ceremonial entrance through Scapa Flow. The official delivery and registration took place in September and the tugs entered into service in late October 2020, once the five crews of four had completed their familiarisation training.

In the spotlight

There was a high level of public interest in the new tugs, with a public poll of the islands’ residents to select the names. It was important that the final handover and the transfer to the UK flag went smoothly, said David Sawkins.

“The maritime industry is a vital part of our heritage and local economy, so it was important that the whole process went as smoothly as possible. The MCA surveyors were brilliant, two came to survey, inspect and audit the vessels just a couple of days after their arrival and it was seamless. We transferred the flag from Turkey to the UK in the very quick time of 24 hours so we could go about our next plans for the future,” he said.