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Transport / Transport Scotland happy to keep freight capacity on Northern Isles route ‘under review’

NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.The NorthLink cargo vessels could be replaced with new 'freight plus' vessel by the middle of the decade. Photo: Shetland News

TRANSPORT Scotland has responded to calls for another freight vessel to be deployed on the Northern Isles route by saying there is flexibility in the service for extra capacity to be added on a short-term basis.

Local haulage firm Northwards said on Friday that a third freighter should be introduced while plans for lager cargo vessels are drawn up.

Commercial director Neil Leslie said adding another vessel would “allow Orkney its own dedicated freight vessel and Shetland the two ships necessary to accommodate the current and growing demand”.

It comes after government agency Transport Scotland revealed during the week that it has drawn up to designs for larger vessels to replace the two current NorthLink cargo ships, with one potentially providing capacity for 200 passengers.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said it has held initial discussions with government ferry owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) and Serco NorthLink Ferries in relation to the long-term freight vessel replacement strategy for the Northern Isles.

“In parallel, CMAL and Serco NorthLink have been working together on options for future replacements of the two current freight vessels,” they told Shetland News.

“CMAL has appointed naval architects to look at the feasibility design of replacement freight vessels including the potential for a ‘freight plus’ option which could create some additional passenger capacity.

“Transport Scotland has been clear that further work will be required to ensure that any option is appropriate and affordable in relation to the delivery of lifeline services.

“CMAL has shared initial ideas with stakeholders in the last couple of days and as the project progresses, further engagement events will be held which will ensure that all key stakeholders are able to contribute to the outcome of the project.

“We welcome the enthusiastic reception to the work undertaken to this point and look forward to working with stakeholders in the coming months.

“In relation to an additional vessel in the interim period, the current NIFS contract provides flexibility for additional services to be introduced, as has occurred in the past with short term deployments of the MV Arrow, provided there is a demonstrable need for such services and these are affordable.

“Although there are pinch points, there is spare capacity on this service, and hauliers are encouraged to engage with Serco NorthLink Ferries to fully utilise the available capacity. We will continue to keep this matter under review.

“In addition, CMAL and Serco NorthLink continually scour the market for suitable second hand tonnage.”