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Transport / Yell ferry linkspan issues cost local haulage firm ‘dearly’

Dagalien approaching Ulsta terminal.

THE TECHNICAL issues which have affected the Yell ferry terminal in recent days have cost a local haulage firm a “fortune in lost time”.

RS Henderson managing director Steven Henderson also said he felt the ferry problems strengthen the case for a fixed link to Yell.

The company is involved in transporting fish landed at Cullivoe Pier in Yell, as well as taking goods to and from the local processing factory.

It came as yet another fault was found at the Ulsta terminal linkspan, initially reducing today’s (Tuesday) services on the route to the Shetland mainland to single vessel only.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson, who chairs the local authority’s transport committee, said the latest problem sat with the weight compensation system.

But after lunchtime two vessels returned to the service to allow linkspan trials and catch-up of traffic.

It was a single vessel service earlier because the smaller ferry Fivla – which is standing in for the larger Daggri while it is in dry dock in Aberdeen – could not use the linkspan while the problems were ongoing.

A different issue with the linkspan meant that a single vessel ran the service Monday to Friday last week, while Covid isolation requirements caused further disruption yesterday.

Henderson said the linkspan problems have affected his company “badly”.

“Not only is it affecting us in the way we can’t go ahead about our daily work, it’s costing us a fortune in lost time,” he said.

Lorries have had to endure waits every day, and “we’re having to put on extra vehicles to try and keep our service up to a level where it needs to be”, Henderson added.

“You end up doing a job with six trucks when you could do it with four before. So, it’s costing us dearly.”

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Meanwhile Henderson said the haulage company also loses out when there is a smaller stand-in ferry – like the Fivla – drafted in on the two-ferry service.

“The chances of getting on the peerie ferry with an artic is zero,” he said. “And when it’s low tide we don’t go on the peerie ferry anyway even if there was room for us, because it’s just not suitable for the T-bars on the backs of the trailers.

“So we’re double hit just now.”

Talk of fixed links have been a hot topic recently and Unst and Yell have been pinpointed as islands which could potentially benefit from tunnels.

Henderson said while fixed links are a “long way away, that’s kind of what we need I think”.

He warned of Yell potentially being cut off if, for instance, if the Ulsta linkspan fails completely.

“We’re running on a skeleton crew, we’re running on skeleton parts, we’re running on old ferries, old linkspans…it’s all going to come to a shuddering halt, that’s what I fear,” Henderson said.

Thomson conceded earlier today that there were “serious, ongoing problems which are affecting individuals and businesses alike”.

The councillor also reiterated his view that fixed links are the way forward.

“The capacity issues are there, but the reliability issues around vessel breakdowns and annual maintenance alongside failures on the linkspan at Ulsta show the fragility of what will become an ever more fragile service as the months and years go on,” Thomson continued.

“The very reason why the only option in the coming years is to look at fixed links over Bluemull and Yell Sound are being highlighted by a perfect storm of essential maintenance, breakdowns, Covid-19 and annual docking.

“We’ve made significant inroads into the viability of fixed links over the last few years, but that needs to be ramped up considerably in the coming months to make a reality the only possible solution to the issue.

“The SIC apologises for the continued inconvenience.”

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