Interview: Sinclair Browne, Chief Executive Port of Inverness, Talks Port Operations, Technology, Brexit And More

port of inverness
Photo: Port of Inverness

Interview by Paul González-Morgan (Marine Strategy) – Sinclair Browne is Chief Executive of the Port of Inverness, situated in the city of Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. It is operated as a Trust Port under the control of Inverness Harbour Trust which was constituted by an Act of Parliament in the 19th century. Ships have been calling at Inverness for hundred’s of years, dating all the way back to 1249 making it one of the oldest continuous businesses operating in the Highlands.

The port is one of Scotland’s most sheltered natural deep water harbours, lying seven miles south-west of Chanonry Point in the Inverness Firth. As a major facilitator in the distribution of goods throughout the wider Highland Region, the port continues to attract new business across all sectors, including freight, renewables and cruise ships.

What are your main responsibilities as Chief Executive of the Port of Inverness?

I head up the Executive Team at the port to oversee all aspects of its operation. I sit on the board in an executive capacity and am also responsible for ensuring that we meet all our statutory obligations. The Port of Inverness is run as a Trust Port and its enabling legislation was laid down by an Act of Parliament in 1847, although we can trace our records back to the 12th Century. This makes us one of the oldest businesses in the North of Scotland and I am conscious of the heritage and reputation that the port has built up over all these years.

I am also responsible for our main business development activities seeking out new opportunities to expand the port’s business whether working with existing port users or seeking to attract new opportunities.
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There is a board of eight non-executive Trustees who meet regularly throughout the year and are responsible for setting out the strategic direction of the port.

?What is your port’s main trades?

Main trades include the import of fuel – Inverness is the main distribution centre for fuel in the Highlands and the fuel is offloaded from coastal tankers to the adjacent depot for ongoing distribution. We also import packaged timber, road salt (for use by Highland Council), carbon blocks and round logs. Over the last few years we have been very busy handling onshore wind farm components, typically tower sections, blades and nacelles as well as other supplementary machinery. This summer alone, over 60 complete wind turbines came through the port for onward delivery to site. We also handle the export of wood pellets and Sterling Board as well as other specific one-off project cargoes. Agricultural products are also handled, typically grain and barley.

Being the Capital City of the Highlands, Inverness is a popular destination for cruise vessels. This year, 2019, we are due to welcome over 800 passengers to the Highlands via cruise ships. The port is not only well placed for access to all the main tourist attractions – it is the closest port to Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle as well as Cawdor Castle and the Speyside Distilleries. The world-famous Castle Stuart Golf Links is within 15 minutes’ drive from the port. This year we will also be used as a turnaround port where the cruise company can take advantage of the excellent communication links as well as the variety of quality suppliers on the doorstep.

Cruise vessels can either berth alongside or alternatively anchor and have a tendered visit. A major attraction of a tendered visit is the opportunity for passengers to see and experience the famous Moray Firth Dolphins, a major tourist attraction.?

Your port is one of the most sheltered and naturally deep in Scotland. Please tell us about this competitive advantage:

This is an advantage in that it means we are normally open for business irrespective of the weather. Once entering the Inverness Firth, ships are sheltered from the worst of the weather in the wider Moray Firth area. Ships generally have a sheltered approach to the Port which means deadlines can be met.

How many port calls do you receive per year and what is the maximum vessel size you can service at present?

Vessel visits vary year to year but on average over the last few years we can expect around 225 visits. Typically, these vessels tend to be normal coastal vessels seen throughout the UK and Europe undertaking short sea shipping routes. Vessels tend to be from all parts of Europe although we have occasional visitors from Russia and Turkey.
As regards restrictions, commercial shipping to/from the port is normally carried out from two hours prior to High Water up to High Water. The maximum vessel dimensions are for dry bulk vessels 100 metres though we can take up to 125 metres on occasions. For fuel oil tankers the restriction is 93 metres. Maximum air draught at MHWS is 29 metres to clear Kessock Bridge. Larger cruise vessels can anchor in the Inverness Firth and tender their passengers ashore.

What role does technology play in port operations?

Technology is playing an increasing role in port operations. We have a safety management system that was introduced three years ago which has been a considerable benefit. We are currently looking at several other technological advances across both our maritime and non-maritime operations.
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Please talk to us about the importance of the maritime sector and the Scottish economy:

The maritime sector is extremely important to the Scottish economy as it is responsible for the movement of goods to and from Scotland. On a wider basis, an economic impact study shows that collectively the industry employs 101,000 people, handles almost 500 million tonnes of freight and contributes £7.6 billion to the economy. In total UK ports handle 95% of all UK trade.

The maritime sector is extremely important to the Scottish economy as it is responsible for the movement of goods to and from Scotland.

The Port of Inverness is also a 50% stakeholder in Inverness Marina, a purpose built 147 berth marina that has been full since it first opened in 2010. The marina offers comprehensive facilities not only for berth holders but also visiting craft.

Overall the marine leisure industry is a significant activity at several UK ports and smaller harbours. The sector has a revenue of over £3 billion and over 1.1 million marine leisure craft, with over half privately owned by individuals. It is also estimated that each year over 14 million people participate in yachting and marine leisure activities.
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What are your thoughts on Brexit and the potential impact on the import/export of goods?

Brexit is in everyone’s thoughts currently. The position seems to change daily and until we get clarity then we will have to plan accordingly. Speaking to a wide range of businesses it would appear that there will be opportunities for some whilst others are uncertain as to how it will impact upon their businesses. The major ports on the south coast will be impacted though measures are being to be put in place to mitigate any delays and impacts.

With just over a month to go to the withdrawal date businesses are seriously considering the impact of a “no deal” scenario. Our senior executive team are meeting regularly to monitor developments.

What is the port’s main future growth prospects?

There are a number of opportunities that we are keen to expand upon. Given our close proximity to a whole range of tourist attractions we are keen to promote the port to the cruise market and in particular the smaller expedition type cruise ships. The appeal is that we can offer an exclusive berth and a bespoke personal service that has generated a positive response from visitors so far.

We are also keen to work and support our existing port users wherever possible to grow and expand their businesses. In addition, we are actively promoting the port and our services to potential port users capitalising upon the green credentials of shipping as well as its cost effectiveness. There are several largescale infrastructure projects schedule for the city where the port can offer unrivalled access and storage facilities for contractors.
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We are also looking at developing our non-maritime assets for the benefit of not only of our stakeholders but the wider Highland Region. We have a large landholding where there is the opportunity for redevelopment with the ability to capitalise on the extensive water frontage.

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