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NorthLink sailing times

Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett.

FERRY operator Serco NorthLink says it has had no negative response from the travelling public to the different way they have been managing sailings in challenging weather conditions this winter.

In a marked difference to previous years, the company has been reacting very flexibly to any adverse weather forecast.

During December, January and February the two passenger vessels regularly dodged the stormy weather by either by sailing hours earlier or later.

There have been some grumbles locally about the company’s policy of making passengers board at the normal time even when there is no intention to set sail for several hours.

But speaking after Wednesday’s meeting of the external transport forum in Lerwick, NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said the company has been learning from the experiences of previous winters.

“If the captain or the operations team review the weather forecast and see that it is going to be a showstopper, we now have a process in place called the local operation notice,” he said.

“It captures the decision making process that we go through to decide whether we sail, when we sail where we sail to.

“We are being funded by the government to provide a lifeline service, and it is not for our guys to say ‘we are not sailing’.

“It is integral to the contract management that we can show the process we went through making that decision.”

Garrett added that the early boarding times were something the management team had been discussing, but he couldn’t offer “an answer in the positive” other than that it is something he is aware of.

The company completed 172 crossings between December and February and had to cancel just 17 sailings. 20 journeys were delayed.

Other figures presented by Garrett showed that 2014 passenger numbers were slightly up to 119,198 compared to 2013, but the number of cars and metre lane of freight shipped were both down.

Both cabin usage and pod usage were higher in 2014/15 compared to the previous year.

And with a view to selling Shetland as a destination, Garrett told the meeting that for 2015 the company had so far accepted 129 group bookings bringing almost 5,400 visitors to the isles.

The number of group tour bookings for 2016 was already at 88, or 4,000 passengers, Garrett said.