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NorthLink return to normal

LIFELINE ferry services in the northern isles should be back to normal from Saturday when the ferry Hjaltland returns to service.

Ferry operator NorthLink said it will continue its emergency day and night shuttle between Lerwick and Aberdeen until Friday night.

The Pentland Firth ferry Hamnavoe is due back in service on Friday morning after returning stranded travellers from Bergen to Aberdeen on Thursday morning.

NorthLink said on Thursday that the past week had been one of the most challenging they had experienced since they took on the lifeline service in 2002.

The company said that Hjaltland was due to leave dry dock at Birkenhead on Thursday evening and will slot into the schedule on Saturday with a northbound Aberdeen to Kirkwall and Lerwick service due to depart Aberdeen at 5pm.

Her sister vessel Hrossey will operate the southbound service from Lerwick the same night, but with an unscheduled call at Kirkwall.

In order to accommodate the Kirkwall call, which does not normally form part of the Saturday southbound sailing, she is due to depart Lerwick two hours earlier than usual at 5pm.

She is due in at Kirkwall at 10.15pm and scheduled to arrive in Aberdeen at 7am on Sunday morning.

NorthLink managing director Bill Davidson apologised for the inconvenience caused to the company’s customers by the disruption.

“The past week has been one of the most challenging that we have experienced in the eight years that we have been operating the service to the northern isles.

“I want to place on record my thanks to NorthLink staff who have worked tirelessly to address the issues which were arising from an ever-changing situation and to keep the services in operation.

“Our booking centre staff for instance have processed about 8,000 calls this week; some three times the volume we would expect at this time of year.

“I know that we’ve not been able to please all of the people all of the time and, in particular, we and the Scottish government have come in for particular criticism from some sections of the Orkney community.

“I understand their frustration but throughout this challenging period, when hitherto unknown challenges called for hitherto untried responses, we have tried to operate a service which addressed the needs of those who were worst affected by the first universal no-fly ban in UK history.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has re-issued the homecoming helpline number to get up to date travel information. The number is 0800 027 0504 or from overseas 00 44 141 272 1333.