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Coronavirus / Social distancing confusion on NorthLink ferries cleared up

As bookings open up NorthLink fears that more travellers will be chasing fewer spaces

THE SOCIAL distancing passengers on board all NorthLink ferries are required to follow remains at two metres despite a short-lived notice on the company’s website that a new one metre rule would apply as of today (Friday).

Transport Scotland described the misleading information on the website as a “typo” but NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett insisted the company had been following government guidance.

That guidance appears to have been somewhat contradictory since lunchtime yesterday with NorthLink saying they had initially being advised that a one metre distancing would apply.

But a spokesman for Transport Scotland insisted that the “misunderstanding” was at the SNF (Serco NorthLink Ferries) end, and that there had been no change to the guidance from the government agency.

NorthLink has now removed any reference to the one metre social distancing advice and reinstated a previous note saying that “to allow physical distancing on board there will be restrictions to the numbers that can sail, so passengers must book ahead to avoid disappointment”.

The lifting of the five miles travelling for leisure purposes rule as of today meanwhile is resulting in a further headache for the ferry operator.

As of yesterday NorthLink has opened sailings to and from Orkney and Shetland to all travellers but the capacity – at two metre social distancing – remains at just 120 passengers on the two passenger ferries serving Shetland.

A reduction to one metre would have enabled NorthLink to carry 335 passengers.

Garrett said: “In line with Scottish Government guidance, we are now accepting bookings for all passengers. As we return to a full timetable across all routes from Saturday, we are also re-opening our online booking system today.

“To allow appropriate physical distancing, capacity on our boats will continue to be constrained and restrictions will remain around the service offering on board. It is still the case that you should only travel if you can do so while adhering to the wider Government guidelines, with face coverings worn on board where required. We have carried out robust risk assessments and have published advice on how to travel safely with NorthLink Ferries on our website.

“We have always said to Transport Scotland if you are opening up bookings you need to do that in conjunction with increasing the capacity, as otherwise you would end up with more people chasing fewer spaces.”