A tanker loaded with fuel docked in Aberdeen early this morning to deliver vital supplies to keep the north-east moving while Scotland’s only oil refinery sits idle.
Fog prevented the Border Thistle making it into port for several hours but she docked at around 1am and the vessel is expected to start pumping her cargo ashore today after a personal intervention by First Minister Alex Salmond.
The Gordon MSP brokered a deal to allow continued loading of the BP ship after the start of a 48-hour strike by members of the Unite union, which is involved in a bitter dispute with bosses at Ineos, owner of the Grangemouth plant.
The north-east was in danger of running out of diesel by tomorrow but the Border Thistle has 2.1million litres of the fuel on board. She is also carrying 1.1million litres of kerosene – aviation fuel – and 1.1million litres of gas oil from Grangemouth.
Unite said last night it could take further industrial action but no dates have been set for more walkouts at Grangemouth.
Production from about 30 North Sea oil platforms has been halted by the dispute.
The Forties pipeline system was shut down because a power plant at Grangemouth vital to its operation was switched off for the duration of the strike.
A BP spokeswoman confirmed that the pipeline had been shut down as planned.
She added that the arrival of the Border Thistle in Aberdeen would ensure no one in the north-east would run out of fuel.
She said: “This will help alleviate any potential shortages in the Aberdeen area.
“However, we have had very few problems at our petrol stations in Scotland. Just two or three out of the total of more than 100 have run out.
“Also, we have had no problems with possible fuel shortages in the Highlands and Islands. We made a delivery by ship to Inverness on Saturday.”
The 1,200 staff at the Grangemouth plant stopped work at 6am yesterday and held a mass rally.
Workers’ families and local politicians were among those who turned out to show their support for union members.
“We regret deeply the inconvenience to the good people of Scotland but we’ve been forced to make a stand,” Unite’s Mark Lyons told the rally.
“We’re appalled at the lengths this company are willing to go to – to take our pensions and to confine future members to a retirement in abject poverty.”
Ineos chief executive Tom Crotty warned it could take up to a week to restart full production at Grangemouth. He said: “We have been working on a nine-month process. Six months into that, the union have stood up, thrown a strike on the table and walked away from those talks.”
The Grangemouth workers have taken out a series of advertisements – including one in the Press and Journal – to explain the reasons for their strike and ask for the public’s understanding and support.
Unite national officer Phil McNulty said: “A lot of untruths have been peddled about the reasons for this strike. Our members have been accused of being greedy and irresponsible but this strike is not about getting more money from their employer or an attack on the ordinary people of Scotland.
“The Grangemouth workers are having to strike to defend their existing pension scheme, which, despite the fact it is well funded and in profit, their hugely rich employer, Ineos, wants to close.”
Offshore industry body Oil & Gas UK has called for ministers to intervene, saying about 80 companies are caught up in a situation that has nothing to do with them.
Chief executive Malcolm Webb said: “It will take very little effort at Grangemouth to provide the extra power, water and steam which will allow the Forties pipeline to reopen and the 70 oil and gas fields to begin producing again. Oil & Gas UK urges the government to take steps to broker such an agreement without delay.”
Mr Salmond said: “What must happen now is that the two parties engage in discussions to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible.
“In that light, today’s remarks by Phil McNulty, of Unite, that they want a period of reflection, with no plans for an escalation or new strike, and by Tom Crotty, of Ineos, that they will get Grangemouth fully up and running as fast as possible after the strike, are welcome.”