A MILLION pound facelift of NorthLink’s two ferries Hjaltland and Hrossey is currently underway following feedback from passengers.
The biggest conversion is to the midships area of both ships where the á la carte restaurant is being converted into a premium lounge accessible for an extra charge.
The café area will be converted into more of a “gastro-pub-type dining experience”, with the same menu available to all passengers on board the vessel.
The midships bar area is being extended by removing the gaming area next door and turning it into a snug.
The forward bar is also being converted with the port and starboard seating areas being filled with new forward facing reclining seats.
The central bar area will become more of a café/lounge experience open in the morning for the first time for continental style breakfasts.
There will be additional showers and baby changing facilities for people without cabins, and more comfortable premium reclining seats at less than the price of a cabin.
Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett, who was in Shetland on Wednesday addressing Shetland Islands Council’s external transport forum, said that the work should be completed by Christmas, and apologised for the temporary reduction in capacity while it was ongoing.
“We have spoken to customers about what they want to see onboard the ferries and made investments based on these comments,” Garrett said.
“The comfort of the seats was one of the main issues passengers shared so we’ve changed the seating layout and added premium reclining seats, which will be particularly attractive for those travelling alone.
“We have also evolved the dining offer to better suit modern tastes and will offer increased choice for all the family.
“We have scheduled this work to take place during the quieter winter period to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum and planned the work as best we can to avoid the busiest sailings.
“I am confident our passengers will appreciate the improvements we have planned.”
Transport union RMT are not happy with the company’s plans to cut “hotel” staffing levels on board by 36, from 132 to 96, and are balloting members on strike action over the Christmas period. The reults of the ballot should be known next month.
The move will in turn half each vessel’s capacity from 600 to 300 passengers.
However Garrett said this reduction would only be at quiet periods. During the peak season, at weekends and when bookings were high the company would man up to meet demand.
He added that they had already received 32 applications for voluntary redundancy.
The move would lead to core manning levels on each shift being reduced from 18 to 16 staff, he said.
“We are well on our way to achieving the identified reduction without the need to go to compulsory redundancy. What we are doing now is the model that most other ferry operators adopt and should have been done 10 years ago.”
The SIC transport forum heard that so far passengers and freight customers appeared to be content with the service that the new operators had been running since they took over the service four and a half months ago.
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