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Transport / NorthLink given ‘strong message’ on shared cabins

Photo: NorthLink Ferries

NORTHLINK Ferries has been given a “very strong message” that the Shetland community wants to see the return of shared cabins, a meeting heard on Tuesday.

The issue was raised at the Shetland’s external transport forum, where three councillors pressed the ferry operator on bringing back shared cabins.

However, Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said it remains the company’s position not to reintroduce shared cabins based on Covid risk assessments.

Garrett said the company has “no issue” over people organising sharing a cabin themselves.

A Facebook group has recently been set up to allow people travelling to or from Shetland to offer up a spare bunk in a cabin. It nearly has 1,000 members.

Garrett was fairly resolute that Serco NorthLink is happy to stick to its policy of not reintroducing shared cabins after they were removed when the Covid pandemic struck.

External transport chair Moraig Lyall, Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage and Shetland West member Liz Peterson all spoke up for reintroducing shared cabins.

Armitage said this was especially important as the cost of living rises, while a good night’s sleep – when “horizontal” – was important before driving the next morning.

Garrett reiterated the national advice recommends that people to wear face coverings in public spaces on board the boat.

Peterson meanwhile said people could get off the boat then sit close together on a bus in the morning, but Garrett reiterated that people are recommended to wear a mask on public transport.

But Lyall said: “I don’t believe when people share a cabin it’s you [Serco NorthLink] that’s taking the risk. It’s them taking the risk.”

She also questioned the distance between pods on the boat compared to bunks, but Garrett said the ferry operator tries to book out pods in a way to reduce density.

He also felt the pod lounge is a different environment than a closed cabin.

The NorthLink boss also said the operator is getting “better berth utilisation” after stopping shared cabins, although he was not able to provide any figures about how many bunks may go unused.

Lyall concluded: “I think you are getting a strong message… that this is something that the Shetland community would very strongly like to see returned.”

Meanwhile NHS Shetland’s Colin Marsland said he was aware of more patients choosing to travel by boat because people were missing appointments when using the plane.

Loganair CEO Jonathan Hinkles was unavailable for Tuesday’s meeting due to the airline’s involvement in government talks over the aviation industry.

The airline chief recently wrote a second open letter to Shetland travellers after criticism over Loganair’s performance.