CONTRACTOR MOWLEM is at the centre of a storm after delays of at least four months to a quay construction contract prevented the start of a new ferry service connecting the Orkney Islands and the Scottish mainland.
A brand new 112m ferry Hamnavoe launched in Finland to begin the new Kirkwall-Scrabster service will instead sail to Leith Docks near Edinburgh where it will remain laid up while work on the harbour at Scrabster continues.
Mowlem was due to finish the £15M, 50 week, contract on 20 August before new ferry operator Northlink was to begin sailings on 1 October. Liquidated damages run at £50,000 a week under the ICE traditional contract form with client Scrabster Harbour Trust (SHT) and Babtie Group as engineer.
It is believed the contractor recently submitted a revised programme, estimating completion 23 weeks behind schedule at the end of the year. If enforced, penalties would then run at £1.15M.
No one from Mowlem would comment this week and no technical reason for the delay has yet emerged. Weather conditions this year have been described by local people as better than normal.
The quay consists of a stretch of infilled sheet piling with concrete surfacing at the shoreward end, and a reinforced concrete deck on an array of tubular steel piled supports at the seaward end. Much of the sheet piling has been done, but the tubular piling and decking is incomplete. Other work includes construction of a concrete bankseat for a new ship to shore linkspan.
Project sources said that Mowlem would now have to complete this work in exposed marine conditions during the worst weather period of the year.
The berthing facilities were needed at Kirkwall, Scrabster, Lerwick in Shetland and Aberdeen to accommodate three new ships as part of a complete overhaul of services linking the Northern Isles and the Scottish mainland.
New ferry operator Northlink has invested £100M in the new vessels, while the bulk of the £47M harbour construction costs are to be met by the Scottish Executive.
The vessels of previous operator P&O left the islands on Monday, meaning Northlink has had to find another ship to temporarily ply the route using the old facilities at Scrabster until Mowlem finishes.
Northlink chief executive Bill Davidson told NCE that it would be seeking compensation under its contract with SHT.
'We have a franchise for five years, and look like we could be losing a large chunk of that at the start. People can see what service we want to provide but we can't provide it.'
Orkney Islands Council viceconvenor Jim Sinclair said that the service was a lifeline to the islands. 'This is very frustrating for us. We were looking forward to this new luxurious and much faster vessel, and instead have to settle for a smaller slower older vessel.'
A Scottish Executive statement said: 'As the major funder of the project, we are extremely concerned about the delays.'
A spokeswoman for Babtie said: 'Scrabster Harbour Trust and Babtie Group are extremely disappointed at the delays. We have been addressing the situation with the contractor.'