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Extra vessel chartered after capacity concern

The MV Arrow will seek to alleviate capacity strain in the Northern Isles over the coming weeks. Photo: Ian Leask

A THIRD freight vessel will be chartered for sailings between Lerwick and Aberdeen over the next few weeks following pressure from the Shetland seafood industry over a lack of capacity.

MV Arrow will be in service from Monday until early October, when Orkney’s busy livestock shipping season is expected to have subsided.

Over £2 million worth of fresh fish was left in Lerwick on Monday and Tuesday night – as well as on one occasion in late August – because there wasn’t enough space on NorthLink Ferries’ passenger vessels.

The trailers were shipped the following day, but the seafood industry was angered by the lack of space for a perishable product.

There was no timetabled freight provision on Tuesday nights from Lerwick, and until 20 October there was also no freight vessel on Monday nights – one of the busiest days for seafood traffic.

The positive news for the industry has been somewhat soured, however, by a fault with NorthLink’s freight vessel MV Helliar which was delayed in arrival into Lerwick on Friday.

It only operated on one engine for a period of time, with seafood due to be diverted on the evening’s passenger ship.

A replacement part for MV Helliar is expected by the middle of next week.

Speaking about the MV Arrow being chartered for the coming weeks, Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson said:

“This is exactly what we need – although we would reiterate that this issue should have been addressed ahead of a crisis which Transport Scotland knew was looming.

“The Shetland seafood sector has paid a high cost in recent weeks with several millions pounds worth of fish left on the quayside, as the freight service was stretched to accommodate Orkney’s livestock shipments.”

Henderson added that while the additional vessel will “make all the difference”, it “needs to be maintained in order to support the industry’s current and imminent developments, such as the increase in landings and future growth of Scalloway and Lerwick fish markets”.

“We very much hope that Transport Scotland will continue to acknowledge and react to the intelligence that the industry provides – and re-cast the service for the new contract, not only to meet the needs of a sector that forms the backbone of the Shetland economy, but also has a significant role to play in the Scottish government’s plan to expand Scotland’s exports throughout the world,” she added.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the situation earlier this week should never have happened as the Scottish Government, which provides the Northern Isles ferry contract, was warned about potential problems.

“Leaving salmon and whitefish on the Lerwick quay simply cannot be allowed to happen in future,” he said.

“The pressure applied to the Scottish Government has paid off and that is good. But they were told months ago of this problem by the seafood industry and the hauliers. So every effort must now be made to ensure a shipping contract that meets the freight needs of Shetland.

“Fish landings, mussel and salmon tonnage continues to grow. That is good news for our economy. But we must have an efficient and reliable nightly freight sailing south from Lerwick.”

Scottish minister for energy, connectivity and the islands Paul Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government fully recognises the recent concerns which have been raised about the freight capacity needs for the Northern Isles, and that services periodically do not meet the particular time-sensitive needs of hauliers and freight customers in key sectors like aquaculture and livestock.

“We have been working hard to address those issues, and I am pleased that the temporary charter of an additional third vessel – the MV Arrow – has been secured which will begin service this weekend.

“I look forward to the vessel being in service – the extra freighter will provide additional capacity and resilience to the Serco NorthLink Ferries fleet helping ensure timely delivery of key stock like salmon to our European markets, whilst crucially supporting both the local and national economy.”