SCOTTISH Government owned Calmac has confirmed it is one of the three companies in the running for the next Northern Isles ferry contract.
Serco NorthLink, which currently holds the contract for running services between Shetland and Orkney and the Scottish mainland, is also throwing its hat into the ring.
The identity of the third company is not yet publicly known, but a representative for Danish group DFDS – which bought out Shetland Transport in 2016 – said on Friday that it was not able to comment on whether it was bidding.
An invitation to tender (ITT) was issued by the Scottish Government on Thursday to the three bidders ahead of the contract being awarded in July.
P&O Ferries and Seaborne Freight both said they are not involved in the process.
The eight-year contract, issued by the Scottish Government, is estimated to be worth around £370 million.
The Scottish Government was keen to take the Northern Isles ferry contract in-house but after consultation it decided to continue to put it out to tender.
Calmac is known for running ferry services in the west of Scotland and it is now looking to return to the Northern Isles after previously holding the contract.
A spokesman for holding company David MacBrayne said: “As one of the UK’s biggest ferry operators with an unparalleled track record and a deep understanding of the challenges facing island and rural communities we have the experience and expertise to provide an excellent service to the Northern Isles.
“In the last five years we have seen traffic growth of 37 per cent across west coast routes, achieving record-breaking carryings in 2018. We therefore welcome publication of the ITT for the Northern Isles ferry services tender and look forward to progressing with our bid.”
A joint venture between Caledonian MacBrayne and RBS Group, called NorthLink Orkney and Shetland Ferries, held the contract between 2002 and 2006, before the company operated the boats under its own steam as NorthLink Ferries from then until 2012.
Chairman of Shetland’s regional transport partnership ZetTrans councillor Ryan Thomson said Calmac’s interest came as “no surprise”.
“Freight capacity, passenger capacity and cost – specifically cabin cost, are three key issues that need addressed in the new contract and I look forward to engaging with all three bidders to make sure the needs of our islands are met,” he added.
Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said his company is looking forward to “submitting a compelling bid for the service, building on the improvements which we’ve already introduced over the past six years”.
He added that NorthLink Ferries has delivered a “high quality and reliable passenger and freight lifeline service, while at the same time substantially reducing the tax payer subsidy”.
DFDS, meanwhile, currently runs eight passenger routes across Europe, including Dover to France, Newcastle to Amsterdam and Copenhagen to Oslo.
Serco was awarded the current six-year Northern Isles ferries contract in 2012, but bid competitors Shetland Line (1984) launched legal action after claims over the tender scoring process. However, the local firm ultimately lost its £12 million claim.