THE SCOTTISH Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) has agreed a deal to buy the three passenger ferries serving the Northern Isles.
The Hrossey, Hjaltland and Hamnavoe were previously leased from the Royal Bank of Scotland, but they will now be taken into CMAL ownership thanks to loan funding from the Scottish Government.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf, who is due to visit Shetland on Friday, hailed the move as an “excellent piece of business” for the government.
Meanwhile, the Northern Isles ferry contract currently held by Serco NorthLink has formally been extended for a further 18 months until 31 October next year as the government continues to look into whether it can run the service in-house.
The extension was announced last year ahead of the public service contract ending today (25 April).
“Not only does it secure the future of the three vessels that had previously been leased, but it will also deliver savings to the public purse in the longer term,” Yousaf said.
“We have also agreed an extension to the current Northern Isles contract, which will see Serco NorthLink Ferries continue to run the service until the end of October 2019 under the extended contract.
“This is a continuation of the current agreement, so there will be no reduction in services. This will allow us to make further progress with the review of procurement policy for future ferry operating contracts.
“Our ferry services are iconic transport links that play a vital role for our island economies. Making sure they continue to support the communities they serve, as well as delivering best value for taxpayer’s money, will always remain at the heart of our ferry operations.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, however, said it is “not the ownership of the boats that needs sorting – it is the tendering of Shetland’s lifeline shipping services to Scotland”.
“We need the transport minister to back the sensible approach which means a robust tender, with a specification designed to best meet the needs of islanders and our economy,” he said.
“That is particularly the case for seafood worth £300 million as fresh salmon, fish and mussels need to be exported every night to their markets. The sooner the government make a decision on this the better.”
CMAL chief executive Kevin Hobbs added: “The purchase of the three vessels marks a significant investment in Scotland’s maritime transport infrastructure and strengthens the long-term resilience of services.
“These vessels were built specifically for the Orkney and Shetland routes and their position in Scottish waters is now secure, protecting lifeline ferry services for the islands.”
Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said the ferry operator will be “working closely with the Scottish Government and CMAL as the ownership of the passenger vessels is transferred”.
“We have a positive history of working with CMAL and look forward to continuing to deliver this service with business as usual during the contract extension,” he said.
The three passenger vessels were owned by Northern Isles Ferries Limited, which is a subsidiary of The Royal Bank of Scotland plc.
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