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More woes for Whalsay ferry

THE CAPACITY of an already overstretched ferry service in Shetland is likely to be cut even further this winter to meet safety regulations introduced after the Estonia disaster in 1994 when 852 people died.

The people of Whalsay have grave concerns about the future of their council-operated transport links with the Shetland mainland.

The current two ferry service is unable to cope with rising demand and plans to enhance it  have been deferred while the authority investigates building a five mile tunnel to the isle.

Now the council has said the eight year old ferry Linga must almost halve the number of passengers it carries before being modified to meet new European rules to prevent passenger vessels sinking if they suffer damage to their hull.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is looking at designs by a team of naval architects that would improve the Linga’s buoyancy in the engine room and at the stern.

However the work can not be carried out until April when the boat is booked in for annual maintenance and the new rules come into force on 1 October this year,

Shetland Islands Council have been told the MCA will probably allow them a derogation to continue using the ferry, as long as they reduce the number of passengers from 95 to 50 until the improvements are carried out.

SIC marine superintendent Colin Reeves said that the service should not be badly affected as the number of passengers barely reached 50 during winter months and the number of vehicles would not be affected.

“The impact will be relatively small, we will only have problems when there is a function like a wedding when a lot of people have to travel at one time,” he said.

“If it comes to it we might be able to put on the Hendra as an additional service. That might depend on crew availability and will depend on cost, but it’s only likely to be a fairly rare occurrence.”

However Whalsay residents are not happy with the news. One said: “Does this mean that we can only have our social functions in the summer? I am sure there will be more than 50 people that will want to go to Up Helly Aa for instance.

“The fact is the choice is being taken away from us, and it’s when the choice is taken away that you start to think it isn’t very fair.”

Mr Reeves stressed the new buoyancy regulations only concerned safety once a vessel had already been holed.

The Linga was one of the first boats to be launched when the new rules were brought out in 2002. The Polish built vessel suffered a series of problems after it came into service.