HUNDREDS of islanders have had their lives thrown into confusion after a ferry terminal linkspan broke on Wednesday evening, stranding passengers and vehicles trying to travel to and from Shetland’s north isles.
The relief ferry Fivla was trapped beneath the linkspan at the Toft ferry terminal, on Shetland’s mainland. The boat was unable to move for two hours while engineers tried to lift the large metal plate clear of the boat.
Passengers were able to walk ashore, but their vehicles remained on board and ended up back on Yell once the Fivla had been freed.
On Thursday morning ferry operators Shetland Islands Council drafted in four smaller ferries to run an unscheduled timetable taking passengers and vehicles to Vidlin and passengers only to Toft.
Priority had to be given to commercial vehicles bringing perishable goods into the north isles’ shops for the weekend, and lorries carrying huge quantities of salmon, mussels and white fish to meet the ferry for Aberdeen.
The council’s transport department said yesterday that it would be Tuesday before the linkspan was fully repaired, but they had put in place a timetable for the next few days.
Ferry manager Colin Manson said the problem had been caused by a combination of low spring tides and a smaller relief ferry requiring the linkspan to be lowered beyond its capacity.
“After initial investigations it seems that the reasons for the linkspan at Toft failing appear to be due to a very low tide and a low freeboard relief vessel in operation at the time,” he said.
“This resulted in the linkspan being at an extreme angle causing a malfunction in the shore side retaining connection, this in turn broke the retaining chains. We are hoping to have repairs completed and the linkspan operational again early next week.”
The linkspan should be back in position by Saturday, after which the damaged hydraulic rams will have to be replaced. Testing and commissioning should be completed by Tuesday.
The Fivla had been drafted in while the much larger Daggri was in drydock for annual maintenance in Lerwick. She should have been back in service, but work had been held up due to the flight delays caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash.
Yesterday the council pulled out all the stops to keep the Yell service going, bringing in the Geira from the Bluemull Sound and the Hendra, which serves Whalsay, to operate between Ulsta and Vidlin. They also brought in the Thora to take foot passengers between Ulsta and Toft.
Daggri’s sister vessel Dagalien may run a direct service to Lerwick on Friday for commercial vehicles only. The vessel was being kept on standby yesterday in case she was needed to help the engineers investigating the damaged linkspan.
Yesterday haulage company Robert Henderson, of Yell, managed to get a lorry to and from Lerwick to bring supplies for the isles shops. They also managed to get lorries full of farmed and wild fish to Vidlin to reach the NorthLink ferry for Aberdeen last night.
Director Steven Henderson said the disruption would cost his company dear, as they were having to employ twice as many vehicles and drivers to ensure a rapid turn around to make up for the longer ferry journey.
“We were struggling anyway with one of the big ferries missing at the moment, but this will push everything into next week. Financially this will be a big strain on the company,” Mr Henderson said.
“In one day we are exporting £180,000 in salmon alone. That’s a lot of money’s worth and if it doesn’t get to NorthLink on time you are getting into the May bank holiday and facing substantial claims for late delivery.”
Mr Henderson thanked the council for pulling out all the stops to help, and apologised to car drivers who had been pushed to one side to allow lorries onto the small ferries first.
Knitwear manager Laurence Odie, who travels from Yell to the mainland every day, said more than a hundred people who commute across Yell Sound would have their lives thrown into chaos by the disruption.
“It’s a terrible inconvenience for folk,” he said. “The problem is having to go to Vidlin on an untimetabled service. If you are going to work for 8am you don’t know what time the ferry is going to leave Ulsta and you are going to get to work on time.
“That’s why it’s been important to have a passenger service to Toft so that people can leave their cars there, though that is a terrible inconvenience if you live in north Yell or Unst.”
Mr Odie praised the council’s ferry service for keeping everyone well informed through their new text messaging service and voicebank on 01595 743 972.
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