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Transport / Capacity increases on NorthLink boats

Capacity of both the NorthLink passenger and freight boats have come under scrutiny over recent years. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

PASSENGER capacity on NorthLink’s ferries has increased to 335 after more assessments were carried out on board the vessels.

NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett, meanwhile, reminded people to continue to “exercise caution” when travelling on the ferries.

The Hjaltland and Hrossey had been running to a capacity of 120 to allow social distancing after travel opened up to those visiting family and friends.

NorthLink has confirmed the capacity is now 335 in line with current guidance after further assessments were carried out, but this is still some way off full capacity.

In early July the Scottish Government announced that exemptions were to be permitted for public transport, retail and hospitality sectors to allow a move from two metre to one metre physical distancing.

Sectors like hospitality, accommodation and tourism are reopening from today (15 July), with anyone now able to travel north to Shetland.

During lockdown NorthLink operated restricted service for essential travel only, with passenger numbers between 22 March and 30 June down 95 per cent on the previous year.

The ferry operator confirmed that 70 people had been refused travel during phase one and two of lockdown.

Around four in ten passengers on the boats from mid-April to the end of June were key workers in sectors like energy, fishing, utilities and agriculture.

Nearly 1,400 journeys in this time period related to islander travel – including caring, student returning home and family-related issues – while 14 pet cent of movement was NHS travel.

Between 22 March and 30 June around 10,000 bookings were cancelled, leading to £4.2 million in refunds being processed.

Garrett said: “In line with phase three of the Scottish Government’s roadmap out of the Covid-19 crisis, all passengers are now able to travel on our routes with capacity increased, but still curtailed, on our vessels.

“We are proud to have provided an essential service between the Scottish Mainland and Orkney and Shetland during this national emergency, which had an understandable and expected impact on passenger volume.

“Due to the proactive approach we took during this period with cancellations, we were able to ensure capacity was available at all times for those eligible to travel under government guidelines.

“Our analysis shows we supported a range of key sectors during this period, while also providing essential travel for islanders and NHS staff and patients.

“While we expect passenger numbers to rise during the weeks ahead, particularly with the re-opening of the tourist industry, we would remind passengers to continue to exercise caution.”