Aberdeen Harbour – The Heart of Aberdeen

Aberdeen Harbour is the oldest existing business in Great Britain, but with this ambitious expansion it is lighting the way to the country’s future.

Business Focus Magazine has interviewed quite a few businesses with long histories in its time, but Aberdeen Harbour is listed in the Guinness Book of Business Records as the oldest existing business in Britain. Its story is intrinsically tied to the story of the city of Aberdeen, and its growth and evolution mirror that of the Granite City. Since it was established by King David I of Scotland in 1136, the harbour has played a vital role in the commercial life of the city. From there it has become a vital link in the chain of Scotland’s, and even the UK’s economic prosperity, since the discovery of North Sea oil, but that is only the latest industry to pass through the port.

It has been home to fishing, shipbuilding, textiles and global stone exports from Aberdeen’s famous quarries. Today the port contributes £1.5 billion to the Scottish economy and supports as many as 12,000 jobs, so it is a major economic driver – both for the Northeast region, and Scotland as a whole.

Aberdeen has been Europe’s premier port for the oil and gas industry for more than 50 years and has built a wealth of experience in the energy sector. As well as acting as the marine base for international energy operators, the port has an extensive supply chain on its own doorstep.

A New Chapter

But right now, a new chapter is opening up in the history of the port, as it undergoes the largest marine infrastructure project underway in the UK and the most ambitious development for trade around the North Sea.

“The expansion of the port will ensure Aberdeen can support the future of energy production in the UK and will be critical to supporting the country’s energy transition,” explains Bob Sanguinetti, Aberdeen Harbour’s CEO. “Our current port will continue to serve a variety of customers, but the expansion will dramatically increase our capabilities.”

Aberdeen’s South Harbour has been built with larger, wider, and deeper ships in mind, and incorporates considerable heavy-lift laydown space, making it an ideal port for space-intensive industries such as offshore wind. The harbour is located within close proximity of current and future offshore wind farm sites, bringing customers closer to their offshore projects.

When it is completed later this year, the combined port in Aberdeen will contribute £2.4 billion GVA to the Scottish economy by 2035 and support as many as 19,000 indirect jobs. But that only marks the beginning of the benefits this project will have for local communities.

“We have a vested, proactive interest in the prosperity of our local communities, and have included several measures as part of the expansion to benefit adults and children living and working near to the port,” Sanguinetti explains. “As well as amenity developments – such as improved pedestrian and cycle paths and leisure provisions – we have donated more than £600,000 to local community groups and charities, benefitting as many as 200,000 people. Our Project Visitor Centre has been very popular with the local school, university and community groups, and we look forward to welcoming more members of the local community to this area as the project completes.”

Starting from Scratch

It is an enormous and extremely ambitious project, with much of the infrastructure being built from the seabed up, and so it has not come without its challenges. To add to the challenge, the North Sea is a famously difficult environment to operate in at the best of times.

“It is very rare to construct a large-scale port from scratch, let alone in the North Sea,” Sanguinetti acknowledges. “We have had to incorporate the effects of the weather into the project plan and preparing for this has ensured we keep within our timescales.”

Of course, all the planning in the world could not have prepared the project for the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic aftershocks that have been felt since.

“Like many other infrastructure projects, we have felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as rising costs of materials and supply chain delays,” Sanguinetti tells us. “However, we have achieved considerable progress on site since the pandemic, and the port is on track to open as scheduled in 2022.”

On completion, the expanded Aberdeen Harbour will form a central pillar of the energy transition in Scotland and beyond, in turn triggering a wealth of opportunities across the Northeast. This will be a particular boon to Aberdeen itself, which is set to become the energy transition capital of Europe, with its multi-million-pound port expansion at the heart of the development of high potential clean energy sectors such as offshore wind and green hydrogen.

More than that, Sanguinetti hopes the expanded port will serve as an example to other ports across the country.

“We strive to be a leader in energy transition and our efforts will be critical for the use of clean fuel in ports around the UK,” he tells us. “Our joint project with Connected Places Catapult, which has benefitted from more than £400,000 in funding from the Department of Transport as part of the Clean Maritime Demonstrator Competition, will act as a blueprint for the implementation of shore power for UK ports and the wider maritime industry, particularly with small to medium-sized vessels, such as Platform Supply Vessels and Offshore Support Vessels, which regularly visit the port.”

The changing energy industry and development of clean fuels will be critical to the port’s success in the future. Fortunately, it benefits from strong relationships with private and public bodies across the whole of the UK, and Sanguinetti looks forward to working with them to ensure the port remains at the heart of the energy transition.

As Sanguinetti says, “With our multi-million-pound infrastructure developments, innovative supply chain and experience, the port in Aberdeen can become Scotland’s green port of the future, creating prosperity for future generations and connecting our customers and port users to what they need, where and when they need it.”

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