Ocean KineticsOcean KineticsOcean KineticsOcean KineticsOcean Kinetics

Transport / Physical distancing reduces capacity of north boats by 80 per cent

Passenger numbers on board the NorthLink Ferries dropped by 80 per cent between 22 March and the end of August. Photo: NorthLink Ferries

THE NORTHLINK ferries are currently running at around one fifth of their usual capacity as physical distancing measures continue to be implemented on board.

The Hjaltland and Hrossey returned to their usual timetables on Monday (22 June) as lockdown rules relaxed to allow people to travel to meet family, alongside keyworkers and essential travel.

Their capacity has been reduced to around 120 passengers.

Scottish minister for energy, connectivity and islands Paul Wheelhouse said in a letter to MSPs and Scottish MPs that the impact of the two metre physical distancing rule has a “significant” impact on ferries’ capacity.

“On the Serco NorthLink vessels, the requirement to maintain two metres physical distancing has the impact of reducing capacity to around 20 per cent of the normal certified capacity on the passenger vessels,” he said.

Current bookings on the north boats is about one third of what operator Serco NorthLink usually has at this time of the year, before the school holiday period.

Wheelhouse confirmed that ferry operators have explored with the coastguard whether passengers could remain in their cars for the whole journey to create more space for passengers on board.

“While this can be achieved on vessels where the journey is short and there is an open deck, this is not permissible for longer journeys or where there are closed deck vessels,” he said.

Wheelhouse reiterated that “travelling to and from islands to visit family is acceptable, as is the case elsewhere across Scotland, but individuals should consider whether they can do so while acting in line with all other guidance”.

The minister added that “clearly we would also be grateful for restraint where possible to enable as much capacity to be available for essential travel as is possible”.

He also said the government is also looking at possible measures to manage demand to ensure that islanders are not disadvantaged.

In his letter to politicians, Wheelhouse added: “There will also be a need to carefully balance the needs of the economy and tourism sectors and, of course, ensure key workers are accommodated and we will continue to engage with local authorities on the balance of our approach.”

During the initial period of lockdown NorthLink had reported a drop in passenger numbers of up to 95 per cent as it remained open to essential travel only.

A reduced timetable was introduced in March.

More information on NorthLink’s current guidelines on travel can be found online.