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Transport / No reduced service expected on ferries if more restrictions are imposed on isles

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

TRANSPORT Scotland is not expecting to reduce ferry services to the Northern Isles again should Shetland move to more stringent coronavirus restrictions.

Head of ferries Chris Wilcock told a meeting of the Shetland external transport forum on Wednesday that “we are relying on people to police their own behaviour”.

The Northern Isles ferry service was reduced to a single vessel at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to allow for essential travel, but Wilcock said there is no expectation this will happen again.

Shetland is placed in level one in a five-tier coronavirus restriction system but the current prevalence of Covid means that there is no likelihood of more stringent rules unless there are outbreaks.

The north boats currently have a reduced capacity of 335 – down from 600 – due to physical distancing, and Wilcock said Transport Scotland is anticipating these measures might be in place through to at least the summer despite the introduction of a vaccine.

Transport Scotland officials also told the meeting that work is ongoing in the background for the design and concept of replacement NorthLink freight boats.

However, no budget has been set at this stage for new vessels.

The meeting also heard that work on a ferry fares review is now ongoing, but a warning was made over the uncertainty currently surrounding Brexit and what impact that may have on regulations in the future.

Northern Isles ferry service contract manager Paul Linhart-MacAskill said work on the fares review was at an “early stage”.