A Highland harbour has been handed a £4 million funding boost towards a £25 million expansion expected to create hundreds of job.
The Port of Cromarty Firth is reclaiming nine acreas of land from the sea to develop a new deepwater quayside at its Invergordon Service Base.
Bosses believe it will help attract further work from the oil and gas industry, as well as the growing renewables sectors.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing announced the £4 million grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise during a visit to the base.
The investment forms part of an ongoing programme by the port which they hope could support hundreds of jobs.
Mr Ewing said: “The energy sector represents a huge opportunity for Scotland to reap both economic benefits and become an energy power house.
“That is why it is important to support the development of the Port of Cromarty Firth – which in turn can create hundreds of jobs for the area not just in construction but also for the supply chain.
“This is another sign of confidence in Scotland as a great place to do business and a great place to invest.”
Bob Buskie, CEO for the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “The new development will offer an additional deep water quay and essential laydown space, both of which are greatly in demand by the oil and gas market and the renewables sectors.
“The expansion is a crucial step forward for the port in securing future opportunities and supporting the economic health of the wider region.”
Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon at HIE said: “HIE has worked with the Port of Cromarty Firth for many years, recognising its crucial role as a driver of the Easter Ross and wider Highlands and Islands economy.
“This £25 million redevelopment, supported by £4 million from HIE, will ensure the port is primed to exploit the increasing opportunities in offshore wind, oil, gas and subsea industries, especially in the North Sea and West of Shetland.
“The Port of Cromarty Firth’s status as a trust port, run as a strong commercial business, but re-investing all profits back into the region is another reason for its strong growth over the past four decades, mirroring HIE’s dual role in both economic and community development.”
Vessels have aready started dredging in the port in what marks the first stage of an 18-month programme of works.
Over 21,000 cubic metres of silt and mud will be removed from the seabed, peeling back the transient layers of the firth to reach a solid foundation upon which to build the expansion.
The expansion is due to be completed by summer 2015 and it is expected to support may full time employment opportunities.
The port is already attracting business connected to the next phase of one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms.
Last month, the Chinese heavy lift vessel, the Xia Zhi Yuan 6 arrived from Cartagena, Spain, carrying the first concrete gravity base caissons, for use in the Moray Offshore wind farm and the Inch Cape windfarm.
The Port of Cromarty Firth has been selected as the closest port to the wind farms capable of providing both a sheltered, deepwater berth and onshore supply chain service necessary to see the project through to completion.
The caissons are to be used in the construction of Met masts (offshore weather stations), one at Moray wind farm and one at Inchcape, near Edinburgh.
Each caisson will be fitted with a large steel monopole (used to anchor the caisson to the sea bed) and a 90m tall steel a lattice tower, on to which meteorological equipment will be installed.
The offshore weather monitoring stations will start providing essential data, which will inform key technical and engineering decisions for the wind farm. The weather stations will measure wind speed and direction in the area as well as temperature and air pressure.
The Port was established in 1973 as a Trust Port with statutory responsibility for the Cromarty Firth and manages the port facilities at Invergordon Service Base and Saltburn Pier.
The majority of its activities are oil and gas related but there are growing opportunities in renewables, especially offshore wind.
In January 2013, HIE signed joint working agreements with four of the regions’ leading ports, including the Port of Cromarty Firth, to support the development of the offshore wind sector.
The partnership aims to help the Ports attract a potential £100m of investment to the Highlands.