Moray Council’s £2.4 million dredger has failed to hit its annual target of operational days since launching five years ago.
The Selkie was commissioned as Scotland’s only local authority-owned dredger to drive down maintenance bills for harbours.
However, now it has been confirmed the dredger has never reached its 60-day annual target for maintaining Moray ports amid accusations it is a “white elephant”.
Access concerns at Moray harbours
Senior council officials have explained the vessel has “come relatively close, on occasion” to achieving the benchmark without success since launching in April 2016.
Concerns have been raised in coastal communities for several years that the lack of maintenance is leading to growing access issues in harbours.
Buckie councillor Gordon Cowie said: “We have been getting the same complaints day in and day out about the high water and low water times for getting in and out of harbours being vastly reduced.
“There was a barge going out of Buckie this month and it ran aground.
“I know they are supposed to contact the harbour office and on this occasion they did, so they must have got clearance to get out of the harbour and still got stuck.”
Moray Council transportation manager Nicola Moss stressed the dredger would work to clear ports to their certified depth – but not beyond that.
Does dredger need more money to reach 60-day target?
The Selkie has been beset by issues since it was launched five years ago with the aim of reducing bills and generating income from external contracts.
Staffing issues forced the dredger out of action for several months.
Earlier this year it returned to sea following an excavator engine replacement that led to it being berthed in Buckie.
The new annual 60-day target for the dredger in Moray ports includes 30 days in Burghead, 13 in Buckie, eight in Findochty, four in Hopeman, three in Portknockie and two in Cullen with approaches to commercial harbours being given priority.
Mrs Moss has explained the operational days could be increased if the £180,000 annual budget for dredging is increased.
Buckie councillor Tim Eagle said: “As a council, we spent a huge amount of money on a very important asset that was designed, built and paid for by the taxpayer of Moray to maintain our harbours.
“However, it might be that we don’t give it the revenue it requires to be able to do its job.”
Mrs Moss said: “The 60-day target comes from the budget provision in terms of dredging. It can be used for more, but that will have an additional cost to the council.”
Moray Council has warned the annual dredging plan remains subject to change and will be dependent on weather, tides and sea conditions.