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Dry dock will create second class ferry service

SHETLAND will be left with a second class ferry service for nine weeks next year after the Scottish government refused to fund a replacement vessel during the dry dock period.

Isles MSP Tavish Scott said the government’s stance was unacceptable and shows they do not care about Shetland.

On Tuesday morning ferry operator NorthLink announced that 2012 will see an extended dry dock period lasting more than two months from 23 January until 26 March, as each of the three ferries serving Shetland and Orkney undergoes a five yearly extended survey.

The company also said the government had refused its request to pay for chartering the CalMac ferry Hebridean Isles to cover for the Hamnavoe on the Pentland Firth route.

Last year’s dry dock schedule threw the Shetland ferry service to Aberdeen into chaos when a combination of a new freight schedule and poor weather left the isles without a vessel to export seafood or transport passengers for days on end.

This year NorthLink have promised to provide a freight vessel capable of carrying 12 passengers on those days when a passenger ferry is not sailing.

The company said during the dry dock period a ferry would sail northbound from Aberdeen on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays, and southbound from Lerwick on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. There will be no ferry in either direction on Saturdays.

NorthLink chief executive Bill Davidson said that the Scottish government had decided “for budgetary reasons” that it would not charter the Hebridean Isles.

“We appreciate that the dry-dock season invariably leads to inconvenience to customers and that the period of inconvenience will be much longer this year due to the more extensive work being done. We’ve sought to minimize the time and we apologise for the inconvenience to our customers which will inevitably arise,” Mr Davidson said.

“In order to keep essential freight flowing during the overhaul period, our freight vessels Hildasay and Helliar will operate to slightly modified timetables. This will also mean that, on days when there isn’t a passenger vessel operating, there will be a freight vessel sailing each of which has capacity for up to 12 passengers. These services have proven to be a popular option in the past.”

Tavish Scott said the government had to take on board that this was a lifeline ferry service and it was no way to treat islanders and their economy.

“We have no alternative to this vessel and this will give us a second class service over those nine weeks, the worst service that we have ever had and I don’t think that is acceptable. It just shows that the government doesn’t care about the islands,” he said.

Acting chairman of Shetland transport partnership Allan Wishart added that people outside Shetland forget the importance of the lifeline ferry link to Shetland.

“It’s everything we have; it’s our motorway, it’s our railway, everything that other people take for granted. This is like having a road block between Aberdeen and Edinburgh or having one lane of the motorway closed,” he said.

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