In Scotland’s Highlands, the Port of Cromarty Firth is a deep-water port serving Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry. Located at Invergordon on the north shores of the Cromarty Firth, the port was first developed in 1785 to ship livestock and grain.
Cromarty Firth is one of the safest and deepest harbors in the United Kingdom. Royal Naval dockyards operated there during both World Wars, and it has experienced rapid industrial growth since the 1960s. Today, its primary industries support North Sea oil exploration and development operations. In 2001, almost four thousand people called Invergordon home.
Inverbreakie, the original name of the town, was first mentioned in the 13th Century when the castle there was occupied by a Flemish representative of William the Lion. The site of today’s harbor was occupied by a handful of thatched houses at the time. The castle was originally little more than a stone tower.
Invergordon and Cromarty Firth has been a port since the early 18th Century. The Royal Navy visited the port during the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745. The town of Invergordon was named after Sir William Gordon who was a prominent landowner and who bought the castle estate in the early 1700s. Gordon enlarged and rebuilt the castle, but it is his son, Sir John, who is the true founder of Invergordon.
The village began to develop when the MacLeods of Cadboll purchased the castle property and developed the harbor that soon became an important distribution point for the Highlands. Docks were constructed, and cargo vessels first used the port in 1785. In the mid-19th Century, Cromarty Firth was primarily a coaling base and a port handling grain and livestock. In the early 20th Century, the Royal Navy established a base there.
In 1907, Invergordon and Cromarty Firth welcomed 14.5 thousand men and 20 torpedo boats, 12 battleships, six cruisers, and two scout ships. In 1912, the UK Ministry of Defense established a permanent naval base there which was in use until 1993. During World War I, Cromarty Firth was a fully-equipped navy base and dockyard.
The cruiser HMS Natal was at anchor at Cromarty Firth when it accidentally exploded, killing 300 sailors and their families. During the Great Depression when the British government cut the salaries of its employees (including seamen), the Atlantic Fleet anchored in Cromarty Firth and refused to leave the port in an act of defiance. Known as the Invergordon Mutiny, although it involved no violence and had little real effect.
Because it was near German flying routes during World War II, the Navy did not rely on Cromarty Firth as a major navy base. But it was a base for flying boats with Invergordon as base for three squadrons of aircraft that patrolled the North Sea area.
In 1971, a pier was constructed with the British Aluminum smelter at Saltburn, providing much employment for the area until it closed in 1981. In the early 1970s, the oil platform construction yard was opened at Nigg, and the CFPA expanded the port area to support oil rig maintenance services and to supplement the Nigg facility.
Controlled by an independent board without shareholders, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) was created in 1973 by an Act of Parliament to support the oil and gas industry. The CFPA shared responsibility for port functions with the Navy.
In 1974, Highland Deephaven was opened and, in 1979, the British National Oil Corporation announced its plan to build a North Sea Base at Invergordon. The Beatrice Oil Field began to produce in 1981, and the Sedco 700 was the first oil rig to undergo repairs at the Invergordon Service Base in 1883. In 1984, the Navy withdrew and closed its refueling base at Cromarty Firth. In 1988, the Navy relinquished pilotage responsibilities to the CFPA.
CFPA owned a third of the Moray Firth Service Company that was founded in 1984 to operate and manage the Service Base. In 1993, the Navy withdrew completely from Cromarty Firth, relinquishing the operations of the Admiralty Pier. Today, the Admiralty Pier is used for cruise liners who bring visitors to Scotland’s Highlands. In 1994, CFPA bought 100% of the shares in the Moray Firth Service Company.