Oil tank delay to Galway's Volvo Ocean Race village


FIVE MONTHS before the Volvo around the world fleet sails into Galway, the event's hosts are confident that a breakthrough is "imminent" in preparations for Ireland's first stopover of the race to date.

Difficulties between Topaz and Chevron Ireland over relocating to a new oil terminal have stalled work on laying foundations for the Volvo Ocean Race village in Galway docks.

The Government has committed €8 million to Ireland's participation in the prestigious international event, including funding of the Galway race stage from May 23rd to June 6th.

It represents the largest State investment of its type to date in a sporting event and is expected to attract 140,000 spectators with a prospective spend in the region of €42 million.

The site for the race village in Galway docks is an existing terminal owned by Topaz, the Irish-owned company which was established following the takeover of Shell and Statoil retail fuel businesses in 2005 and 2006.

The six-tank terminal was to have been dismantled before Christmas and relocated to a new purpose-built terminal which meets new international health and safety requirements.

The new Enwest terminal, built at a cost of €38 million, is seeking to lease storage to the fuel suppliers currently spread between two tank farms in the docks area.

It is understood that the two leading players, Topaz and Chevron (formerly Texaco), have some difficulties over the leasing arrangements. Topaz Ireland would make no official comment on the impasse when contacted by The Irish Times. Chevron (Ireland) could not be contacted yesterday.

Ironically, one of Topaz's shareholders is businessman Denis O'Brien who is also part of a syndicate which contributed towards one of two Irish boats in the Volvo race - Green Dragon - currently lying fifth overall.

Galway Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Coyle said there was concern over the delay.

"The dock tanks removal is a signal that something is going to happen in Galway," he said. "I have the greatest admiration for businessman John Killeen who secured this event for the west and wants to create some lasting benefits for Galway.

"A combination of regulatory problems and growing issues on the financial side may jeopardise this and there is a need for some flexibility. As a chamber, we know that the Volvo race will make or break Galway's 2009 tourist season."

Fáilte Ireland regional development director John Concannon said the race participation represented a "terrific opportunity to flag Ireland" in host ports - in which Tourism Ireland was engaging.

A major marketing programme highlighting the Galway stage will be initiated in March. It will include a price charter for hotels to emphasise the fact that the event will be free with a strong community focus. The Galway Volvo organisers have acknowledged that there is a "plan B" and a "plan C", including an alternative race village location, if the tanks are not removed in time.

However, they stress that commissioning of the new Enwest terminal storage tanks has already begun.

An Taisce's Galway branch is not happy with some aspects of the Volvo participation. It is opposed to a permanent marina being left inside and outside the docks area after the race departs.

Green Dragon and the fleet are now in Singapore, preparing for the next leg to Qingdao in China. Delta Lloyd, entered by Limerick sailor Ger O'Rourke, is lying eighth, but the seventh placing, Team Russia, has had to suspend participation due to funding difficulties. Let's Do It Galway, backing Green Dragon, said boat sponsorship was "on target", but "tight".

A strong Chinese financial input would ensure a warm welcome in Qingdao, according to Let's Do It Galway chairman John Killeen.

The strengthening euro contributed to savings of up to 30 per cent on its budget during the first stopover in Cape Town, South Africa.