THE SCOTTISH Government has appointed naval architects to look at future design options for the NorthLink freight vessels amid continued concern from key industries over capacity.
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said that the government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns all of the Northern Isles boats, is “engaging with the freight and aquaculture sectors on the islands to ascertain future requirements”.
The minister revealed the development in an answer this week to a parliamentary question from Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie.
Chief executive of Seafood Shetland said Ruth Henderson said it was welcome news, but she called for “more immediate action” from the government.
Finnie asked the government if it had any plans to replace any of the passenger or freight vessels in the next contract period, which is due to run from early next year through to 2027 under current operator Serco.
Both passenger and freight vessels have been subject to criticism over a lack of capacity in peak periods.
In terms of freight, much of the concern has come from the seafood sector.
Wheelhouse highlighted that through CMAL the government recently took ownership of the three passenger and two freight vessels serving the Northern Isles.
He said these are “available for long-term deployment on these routes to support both the island communities and important island based industries”.
“The Scottish Government’s Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan published in January 2018 intimated that there is a need to plan for continued provision of suitable and adequate tonnage on the Northern Isles ferry service network. That work is ongoing,” Wheelhouse added.
“The Scottish Government has listened to island concerns regarding future passenger and freight offerings.
“CMAL is currently looking at future design options for freight vessels for the Northern Isles services and has recently appointed naval architects.
“CMAL is engaging with the freight and aquaculture sectors on the islands to ascertain future requirements.”
Seafood Shetand’s Ruth Henderson said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s appointment of naval architects to look at future vessel provision for the North Isles.
“Positive as this is, we need more immediate action to address the export challenges that continues to restrict growth in the seafood sector.”