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Crew shortages raise ferry service fears

Dagalien is the only ferry operating on Yell Sound on Wednesday as a result of staff shortages

SHETLAND’S inter island ferry service is being hit after large numbers of crewmen have left as a result of cut backs.

On Wednesday the Yell service was down to a single ferry because the council was unable to find an engineer to work on the Daggri.

The single ferry shuttle service wil continue on Thursday, but both Daggri and Dagalien will operate on Friday, the council says.

Shetland Islands Council has confirmed that it has been forced to advertise for three engineers due to crew shortages.

Ferries manager Ken Duerden confessed that the council had lost more crew members than expected when they requested voluntary redundancies as part of a £3.1 million savings drive to cut spending by 25 per cent.

Ferrymen say staff have left over concerns about long term job security and new shift patterns being introduced this weekend following the major review of the service. With some sections of Shetland’s economy booming again, there is no shortage of work to apply for.

Last month the council said that 31 crew had left the service, half of whom had taken jobs in the private sector.

Duerden said: “We knew how many we thought we needed to run the new service and we downsized to that, but we have had some extra resignations that we were not anticipating.”

He was unable to say how many more staff had left than had been expected, only confirming the council was short of three engineers.

A fourth engineer was off sick, which had forced the Daggri out of action on Wednesday, he said.

“We have struggled to keep the ships manned and unfortunately today we couldn’t find an engineer from our regular staff or pool of relief staff who are up to speed on working on the vessels,” he admitted.

The problem could continue for another two days, which would leave Yell Sound with only a single ferry until Monday under its new timetable which ties one vessel up at weekends.

Duerden said he was optimistic that this was not a “long term issue” and once the posts were filled and new rosters were in place the service should be able to cope.

However ferrymen say the problem could get even worse and the service was only just managing after being cut back to the “bare bones”.

One said that the council was relying too much on ferry crews working overtime or bringing in relief staff from outside the council and that other ferry runs would be hit too.

Kenny Groat, of the local branch of the GMB union, warned: “There are fears among ferry crews that there is not enough personnel to man the boats.

“The GMB have never been happy with posts being covered by overtime and we have always felt that posts should have been covered by either a full time crew or a pool of crewmen.”

Meanwhile Yell businessman Steven Henderson, who runs a haulage business on the isles, said he was losing business as a result of the situation.

“I have had a fishing boat on to me wanting to land fish at short notice and I’m told I can’t get the fish off Yell until teatime. This sort of thing is very worrying,” he said.

Next week he said there would be an increase in farmed salmon exports from Yell and he would be relying on the two ferries both operating.

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