BY MURRAY MACLEOD
The chairman of the Stornoway Port Authority, Angus Smith, has resigned after the board ruled he had been in “breach of procedural guidelines”.
The investigation resulted from issues which have arisen since the summer of this year when the authority purchased a vessel called the ‘Pathfinder’ to act as a second pilot boat to the ‘Portrona’.
It is understood that a former chairman of the authority, Sandy Matheson, had drawn the board’s attention to a range of matters which, he said, had been the source of “public concern”.
Mr Matheson remained dissatisfied this week with the board’s brief statement which, he said, was “lacking in openness, transparency and public accountability as required by good governance”.
The Free Press understands that soon after arriving in Stornoway, the ‘Pathfinder’ was found to be unsuitable for its intended purpose and also suffered from a leak in the propellor shaft which meant that the vessel required constant baling-out.
Matters took a turn for the worse when the ‘Pathfinder’ sailed to Lochmaddy on 2nd September for the opening of the marina there by the Princess Royal. It is claimed that Mr Smith took personal control of the vessel and was accompanied by his daughter and the chief executive, Jane MacIver.
After being sailed back to Stornoway, the ‘Pathfinder’ was found partially-submerged at its moorings the following morning. It is understood that repairs costing around £50,000 will be required. The original purchase price is not known but vessels of the same type and similar age are being offered for around £80,000.
The circumstances in which the ‘Pathfinder’ sustained damage are likely to be of considerable interest to the insurers and the question of whether the vessel and its crew were properly covered for the journey to Lochmaddy is understood to be exercising members of the SPA.
Concerns have also been expressed to the authority about the tendering process for repairs to the ‘Pathfinder’. It is understood that a local ship repair firm was approached with a proposal which was rejected on grounds of propriety.
In a prepared public statement, the SPA said: “At a special meeting of Stornoway Port Authority held on Tuesday 28th October 2014 chairman Angus Smith offered his resignation in the interests of the port authority and this was accepted by the board.
“At a special meeting held on Friday 24th October 2014 the board had found that Mr Smith had been in breach of procedural guidelines. The board wish to make it clear that no tender was received from any local engineer, no contract had been awarded, and no financial or other benefit had accrued.”
It added: “The board expressed its appreciation for the work that Mr Smith has done on behalf of the port authority in his four-and-a-half years as a board member.”
However, Mr Matheson questioned why “the SPA failed to prevent their chairman acting as he apparently did” and feared that the episode had “besmirched the reputation of the port”.
Mr Smith, who lives in Point on Lewis, was previously a skipper on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean and returned home in 2006, when he began running sailing expeditions out to St Kilda in the racing yacht “Elinca”. It no longer operates and the vessel is understood to be up for sale.