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Transport / Rules on carrying dangerous goods shouldn’t be barrier to freight ‘plus’ vessel, NorthLink says

Freight company Northwards, meanwhile, welcomes proposal of new cargo vessels with extra passenger capacity

NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.
NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.

NORTHLINK insists there is room for manoeuvre when it comes to the rules around carrying dangerous goods should proposals for a new freight vessel with space for 200 passengers come to fruition.

It was revealed at Shetland’s external transport forum on Thursday that government agency Transport Scotland is looking into two designs for replacing the Northern Isles freight vessels.

One is a ‘plus’ design in which the vessel could have 60 cabins and other accommodation space to allow 200 passengers on board – potentially helping capacity issues on the Hjaltland and Hrossey during peak times and dry dock periods.

There are international rules, however, which limit the number of passengers on board a ship which is carrying dangerous goods, such as explosives, gas and toxic substances.

NorthLink Ferries’ freight manager Kris Bevan said that the potential limit on passengers on the freight ‘plus’ option may be 46 if certain categories of dangerous goods were on board, due to the 140m length of the proposed ship and the open deck.

But he confirmed that it is common practice for ferry operators to plan ahead when carrying dangerous goods and run sailings when there are fewer passengers booked to travel.

Bevan also reiterated that any proposed freight ‘plus’ ship would run in conjunction with the NorthLink passenger ferries, which already offer a capacity of up to 600.

“It is commonplace within the shipping industry to dedicate ships with increased passenger carrying capability to carrying dangerous goods only with a corresponding reduction in passenger carrying capability,” he said.

“Given it is a requirement of the code to provide advance notice of the intention to ship dangerous goods and these types of sailings can be planned to coincide with days where there are fewer passengers booked to travel.”

He added that previous figures for shipping dangerous goods to and from the Northern Isles “highlight there may only be a need to reduce the numbers of passenger carried roughly once per week”.

Transport Scotland is due to carry out engagement on proposed designs as part of the process.

The plans were well received at Thursday’s external transport meeting, with councillor Robbie McGregor saying he was “blown away”.

Local haulier Northwards has meanwhile welcomed the proposals for the replacement freight vessels, which would offer greater cargo capacity and would be more environmentally friendly.

Commercial director Neil Leslie said: “This is a step forward not only for the haulage industry but for the Northern Isles as a whole. Orkney and Shetland currently have a serious problem in terms of freight capacity, which in turn affects many industries throughout these islands.

“If the freight ships can be replaced with those proposed yesterday, this will, in the long term, provide the capacity and service that we really need.

“In the meantime, we look to Transport Scotland for an interim solution, in the form of an additional freight vessel, to solve the current issue – and potential crisis – in terms of transporting non-perishable but essential goods to and from the islands.”

Transport Scotland has been contacted for comment.