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Council / ‘Paying good money for a poor service’ – haulage firm considers taking council to court over ferry service

The Yell ferry Dagalien. Photo: SIC

A YELL based haulage company is considering taking legal action against Shetland Islands Council in an attempt to recoup some of the money it loses when ferries are cancelled or delayed.

Steven Henderson of RS Henderson said his company is losing thousands of pounds every time the Yell and Bluemull Sound ferries don’t stick to the published timetable and trucks, cargo and drivers are stuck in queues at ferry terminals.

The company director said if he ran his haulage business in the same way the council operates its inter-island ferry service, he would have been out of business a long time ago.

Henderson vented his frustration on Friday morning after ferry services on Yell Sound were once again cancelled due to “crewing issues”, before resuming as a single vessel only service after 9.30am.

The normal two vessel service is due to resume at 5pm on Friday before the normal single vessel weekend service commences on Saturday morning.

Chair of the council’s environment and transport committee Moraig Lyall said Friday morning’s cancellation was due to “an unfortunate set of circumstances” when a crew member became ill shortly before shift start and a replacement couldn’t be found immediately.

Meanwhile, the service on Bluemull Sound between Yell and Unst is operating to a Saturday timetable due today’s public holiday for the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

“I think we have now got to the point where we need to take legal action against Shetland Islands Council to try recoup some of our losses,” Henderson said.

“Every hour a vehicle sits, it’s hundreds of pounds losses, and I can’t charge my customers.

“I have quoted to do a run, and if it takes a few more hours, that’s a few more hours I could work for the next customer and so on it goes.”

Henderson said he had already aborted a “couple of operations up to the isles today (Friday), after heavy delay on Thursday and again Friday morning.

“We are a paying customer [on the ferries], we are not expecting a free service or anything extra, we just need the ferries and the schedule that we have,” the haulage manager said.

He also said there was not enough capacity on the Bluemull Sound service for current and future traffic. “It’s an absolute nightmare to get in and out of Unst for any large vehicle.”

Henderson said that the increasing number of cancellations due to “crewing issues” was a clear sign of poor morale among crews which in turn indicated that management at Sella Ness was not up to the job of running the ferries properly.

And he didn’t mince his words when he said: “So, Moraig Lyall needs to go to Sella Ness and pretty much shake the tree.

“There are some good people and there are some who do a horrendous job, who in a normal working environment would either be demoted or sacked.

Chair of the SIC’s transport and environment committee Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

“And the town hall in Lerwick probably doesn’t realise that, (…) but it is always the customers who are paying good money for a poor service.”

In response, Lyall said she could understand the frustration and anger felt by those dependent on the ferry services and gave assurances that the council was doing everything it possibly could to improve the level of crewing on the inter-island ferry services.

She acknowledged that “staffing was tight” and gave her assurance that council officials were working hard to rectify the situation by recruiting more permanent staff, utilising relief staff as well as using crews provided by agencies.

Lyall added that the problems of recruiting and retaining staff were not just an SIC issue but affected all transport sectors nationally from aviation to trains.

And in response to Henderson’s threat of legal action she said: “I can understand how strong the feeling of frustration is, but I would find it disappointing if the company would go down that route as most of the factors here are outwith our control.”

Henderson also expressed his disbelief with the decision to tie up ferries on the jubilee weekend. “It’s just nonsense,” he said.