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One ferry for nine weeks from Monday

NO extra ferry will be brought in to relieve the Orkney and Shetland lifeline service next Monday after the two island councils rejected a government offer of a replacement vessel and a three week shuttle service.

As a result Shetland will be relying on a single ferry for nine weeks from 23 January to 26 March while ferry operator NorthLink’s three passenger vessels undergo their extended five yearly refit.

Instead the government has offered to pay for extra ferry runs in the event of disruption.

The threat of such disruption, which caused Shetland’s fish exporters major headaches at the same time last year, has already reared its head with NorthLink declaring delays and cancellations to ferry and freight boat services on Wednesday.

Shetland Islands Council’s transport chairman Allan Wishart said he was disappointed the government had not offered to pay the full cost of a replacement vessel.

He said that Transport minister Keith Brown’s offer to provide a three week shuttle service using a single ferry making a return trip between Lerwick and Aberdeen every day between 26 January and 13 February had been rejected by the seafood industry.

“We consulted quite widely and found that arrangement was not going to work, however if bad weather causes disruption the government will pay for double runs to catch up,” Mr Wishart stated.

However he said the government now had a much better understanding of the threat to Shetland’s economy by having just one ferry operating.

Last week the SIC rejected a government suggestion they contribute 10 per cent of the £250,000 cost of chartering the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Hebridean Isles to cover the Pentland Firth route for three weeks while the Orkney ferry Hamnavoe is in dry dock from next Monday.

The proposal had been roundly condemned by Orkney Islands Council who said they were not happy with being given a sub standard vessel.

As a result the Shetland ferry Hjaltland will cover the Pentland Firth route from 23 January to 13 February, after which both Shetland ferries will each spend three weeks in dry dock.

Mr Wishart made the point that Orkney was receiving an enhanced service on the Pentland Firth for the next three weeks, while Shetland has a reduced service.

The disruption comes during the islands biggest winter tourism event, the annual Lerwick Up Helly Aa fire festival when hundreds of visitors come to Shetland.

Loganair is providing an additional flight four days a week between 13 February and 30 March between Aberdeen and Lerwick to help passengers inconvenienced by the shortage of ferries.

On Wednesday ferry operators NorthLink announced that the night time sailing from Aberdeen would arrive in Lerwick seven hours late at 2pm on Thursday.

The 6pm Lerwick sailing for freight boat Helliar to Aberdeen was cancelled, two sailings across the Pentland Firth have been reduced to a single return trip and the freighter Hildasay has cancelled its Thursday arrival in Lerwick.