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Transport / Options being looked to alleviate freight capacity constraints, meeting hears

The NorthLink cargo boat Hildasay leaving Lerwick harbour.
The NorthLink cargo boat Hildasay leaving Lerwick harbour.

TRANSPORT Scotland is looking at “various options” to address freight capacity issues during peak periods on the ferries to Shetland – and a short-term solution could be found soon.

It comes after local hauliers spoke out about a lack of capacity – which has resulted in freight being left on the pier in Lerwick – ahead of a meeting with Scotland’s transport minister earlier today (Wednesday).

But Transport Scotland’s Alan McCabe told a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Wednesday afternoon that an announcement on the short term could be made in a matter of days.

A meeting is scheduled to take place between Transport Scotland and transport minister Graeme Dey.

The freight issues have re-emerged during the peak livestock season.

McCabe also stressed that relief freight vessel MV Arrow, which has been used for the Shetland route previously, being chartered elsewhere was not a case of the west coast being picked over the Northern Isles.

Ferry operator Serco NorthLink made enquiries about chartering the vessel in the spring, but it was unavailable.

McCabe told the meeting that in a couple of years the opportunity may come up for the Arrow to be bought.

But forum chairman councillor Ryan Thomson said two new larger fish markets in Shetland – as well as large infrastructure projects like Viking Energy – meant that anticipated capacity constraints have been known about for years.

Some trailers were left behind at Lerwick harbour this week due to capacity constraints on the ferries.

Meanwhile plans continue for two new freight vessels to replace the current Hildasay and Helliar ships, but it may not be until 2026 before they are in service.

McCabe told the meeting that no decision yet has been made on whether Transport Scotland would pick one, two or zero ‘freighter plus’ vessels which could offer space for 200 passengers.

He conceded it will “come to down to money”, while tenders are expected to go out over the next year.

McCabe added that he believed there would be a “new impetus” from Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government after some personnel changes.

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said earlier today that transport minister Dey is “clear about the importance of supporting commercial freight traffic for the economic wellbeing of key rural industries and our island communities”.

Meanwhile McCabe told the external transport forum meeting that current Covid restrictions on transport such as face coverings are there for a reason.

“We really need to just get the message across that we still need to keep doing what we have been doing,” he said.