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Orkney’s relationship with the sea is as strong as you’d expect from an archipelago found at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea.

The waters around these islands have played a vital role in our history, heritage and economy, and there are still plenty of opportunities for the future.

Orkney's maritime advantages

There are two aspects that make Orkney an ideal location for maritime-based activity. We sit at 59 degrees north, on routes linking the Baltic region and the north Atlantic - ideal for commercial shipping, oil and gas and marine tourism. The scattered nature of our islands - with ports and piers available at all angles - means Orkney can provide shelter for shipping operations during the wildest weather.

Orkney's ports and harbours

There is an extensive network of facilities here. Orkney boasts 29 piers and harbours, including the longest deep-water commercial berth in Scotland, and Scapa Flow is Europe’s largest natural harbour. There are three marinas too, offering facilities for yachts and other leisure crafts.

Orkney’s ports play an important part in the local economy. The services on offer here are central to oil and gas, renewable energy, cruise ship and freight activity. Ship to ship transfers of oil have been carried out in Scapa Flow since the 1980s, taking advantage of the first-class towage and pilotage services available. Two brand-new £6m tugs are now in service in Scapa Flow which has an unrivalled environmental record, with stringent rules and regulations helping keep the seas around the islands safe and clean.

Our piers and harbours also help keep communities connected. Nine internal ferries link our islands, with external routes to Scrabster, Gills Bay, John O’Groats and Aberdeen available from local ports.

Harbours investment

In recent years there has been significant investment in Orkney’s harbour infrastructure, with extensions to Hatston Pier on the outskirts of Kirkwall and new facilities at Copland’s Dock in Stromness and at the former Naval base at Lyness in Hoy. These upgrades provide additional scope for renewables, cruise and oil and gas activity.

The local Harbour Authority – part of Orkney Islands Council – has recently unveiled initial plans for more investment in our piers and harbours. An ambitious £230m masterplan has been published that could bring jobs, revenue and new business to the islands.

The first phase of the plan focuses on five locations for potential development: a deep-water quay in Scapa Flow; additional facilities at Hatston Pier, Kirkwall Pier and Scapa Pier; and Stromness. A second phase would develop smaller harbours and piers in Orkney. The Scapa Flow proposal is seen as vital to securing income from new and emerging sectors, including low carbon fuel transition and offshore wind developments.

If the proposals go ahead, the improvements would be carried out over a 20-year period with the aim of enhancing Orkney’s reputation as islands of innovation, and helping secure the long-term future of our community.