VTS: General Information

Area to be Avoided (ATBA)

The IMO Area to be Avoided around Shetland is applicable to all tankers and combination carriers loaded or in ballast calling at Sullom Voe or in transit around or near the coastline of Shetland.

Shetland Islands Council, conscious of the dangers to navigation around the Shetland coast, due largely to offshore obstructions, strong tides, rapid weather changes and the presence of fishing vessels, vigorously discourages navigation close to the Shetland coastline. The International Maritime Organisation has ratified this as an ‘Area to be Avoided’.

Mariners should observe the IMO scheme as detailed on the navigation charts for the Shetland area. Any vessels found within an ‘Area to be Avoided’ will be reported to the flag state in addition to owners and charterers.

Waiting off Shetland

Vessels stopped in the water should not display the Not Under Command signal unless they are disabled and unable to manoeuvre.

It is often the case that vessels have to wait outside the Area to be Avoided but within VHF range until either a berth is available or there is a break in adverse weather conditions.

On occasion vessels have stopped engines, displayed the Not Under Command (NUC) signals and drifted for extended periods. However, such practice has conflicted with fishing vessels in the area who must tow in finite routes due to rocks on the seabed.

The UK Government’s Department for Transport has ruled that such a display of Not Under Command is an abuse of the collision regulations. See Marine Guidance Note MGN152 Use of Not Under Command Signals.

Should the ship’s master wish to stop and drift, the engines should be available in good time to move out of the way of any vessel, as required by the collision regulations.

Ships using the NUC signals will be reported to the HM Coastguard for further action. Previous incidents of abuse of the signals have been reported to the Government’s Department for Transport.


There are no suitable anchorages available for large tankers in the port of Sullom Voe.

If appropriate vessels in ballast during the summer period are permitted to anchor in Colgrave Sound (60º35’N 00º57’W approx).

Vessels intending to anchor in Colgrave Sound should comply with the following guidance.

Entering the Harbour Area

There are two entrances to Yell Sound, the primary Northern route and the South Eastern approach which is considered suitable for vessels of up to 200 metres in length and a draught of not more than 11.6 metres.

Both the Northern and South Eastern routes merge at the entrance of Sullom Voe; the lead into the Voe is indicated by leading markers located on Fugla Ness.

A minimum under keel clearance of 2 metres should be maintained at all times when navigating within the harbour area.

Control of traffic

The VTS Operator may direct the movement of any vessel within the Harbour Area. Overtaking and passing is prohibited in the deep water channel within an area bounded by a line joining Queyfirth Light and the northern extremity of Lamba Island and by a line joining Skaw Taing Light and the front leading light on Gluss Isle.

Ballast Requirements

Shifts of wind and changes of wind force in Sullom Voe are at times violent and an adverse trim will not be accepted.

For the purpose of manoeuvring, all vessels are required to maintain a reasonable ballasted condition. Vessels should carry sufficient ballast so that the propeller remains immersed whilst maintaining a reasonable stern trim.

Masters are advised that the Harbour Authority requires, unless otherwise directed by the Harbour Master, that the propeller of any ship be immersed at all times.

Only clean ballast that complies with the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM) in that it has a Ballast water management system in place and operational and/or if required Ballast water has been treated or exchanged in a suitable place during sea passage and is contained in tanks completely segregated from main cargo tanks will be allowed to be discharged into the Harbour, and then, only after testing by the Terminal Operator and approval by the Harbour Authority.
For Further UK Guidance see MGN 363 (M+F) The Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments and MGN 81 (M+F) Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water to Minimize the Transfer of Harmful Aquatic Organisms and Pathogens at http://www.dft.gov.uk/mca/mcga07-home/shipsandcargoes/mcga-shipsregsandguidance.htm

Any vessel sighted discharging dirty ballast will be immediately reported to the UK Government Authorities. In such circumstances vessels may be liable to extensive delay until investigations have been completed. For information on discharging ballast please see the Section on Loading and Discharging.

Pollution control

Masters must advise if their vessel has sustained any damage which could cause oil pollution and confirm any known oil losses from hull or sea valves.

The Government, Local Authority, Port Authority and the Terminal Operator view any oil spillages very seriously. Spillages will be investigated by the appropriate authorities and the Master and/or Owner may be liable to prosecution. Delay to the vessel could arise. Masters are therefore requested to ensure that every precaution is taken to prevent oil spillages at Sullom Voe.

Prior to arrival, and whilst alongside, Masters must ensure that all normal ship’s procedures with reference to the prevention of oil spillages are being observed and carried out by the crew. Principal causes of pollution are leaking ship side valves, cargo/bunker overflows and pumping engine room bilges. Therefore it is recommended that sea valves/overboard discharges (which should be shut) and ballast/cargo/bunker/bilge operations are checked by the Chief Officer and the Chief Engineer before arrival. Scuppers must be plugged on main and poop decks in respect of vessels loading/discharging bulk oil.

On arrival the Terminal will give all assistance necessary but are empowered to take action in the event of contravention of pollution prevention requirements.


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