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Transport / Travellers asked to consider if Bluemull journeys are ‘essential’ amid vehicle backlog

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson, from Unst, said it was a “dark day” for the area

The Geira. Photo: Shetland News

PEOPLE travelling to or from Unst and Fetlar are being asked to consider whether their ferry journeys are essential as reduced services cause “considerable vehicle congestion” at terminals.

The Bluemull Sound service is running with a single vessel this week as a result of staff sickness.

But Shetland Islands Council (SIC) said on Tuesday that while efforts are ongoing to keep traffic and passengers moving, there are queues at the Gutcher and Belmont ferry terminals.

“To reduce the build-up of vehicle traffic, Shetland Islands Council would ask passengers to consider whether their ferry journeys on Bluemull Sound are essential, until the backlog of vehicles eases,” a spokesperson said.

“Shetland Islands Council would like to apologise for the continued disruption on this route.”

Meanwhile Unst Community Council is requesting a meeting with relevant officers and officials in the SIC regarding the ferry situation.

It has also asked people in Unst for their experiences of disrupted services.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson said he believes the SIC needs “need at least one additional vessel” as well as more staff.

Ferry operations manager Andrew Inkster told Shetland News last week that the local authority was struggling to recruit to key vacancies.

Added on top of this is absence – mainly Covid related – which is resulting in a lack of staff being available to operate the ferries.

Bluemull Sound and Yell Sound are the services most affected.

Councillor Thomson, who is from Unst, said asking people not to travel unless necessary was a “dark day” for the area.

“The summer tourism season is absolutely key to keeping businesses afloat in the isles and the council having to ask people if their trip is necessary shouldn’t be underplayed,” he said.

“The knock on effect goes beyond the North Isles of course, and everyone within Shetland will be indirectly affected.

“Covid was always going to hit our ferries, it’s hitting them hard now, but so is the age of the vessels and the linkspans, and the lack of crew. The recruitment drive is underway and is hopefully promising, but it will take time to establish. It’s a pivotal time.”

Thomson said fixed links, such as a tunnel, are the “answer” – but not to the detriment of the ferry service in the meantime.

“The crews as ever are doing a fantastic job at managing an extremely challenging situation,” he said.

“Sella Ness staff are also working extremely hard at rectifying the situation and have my full support. In order to secure a sustainable, secure ferry service we not only need more crew, but we also need at least one additional vessel, and we must continue searching the second-hand vessel market to source an appropriate one.

“The MV Fivla does a job, but our overall vessel situation is fragile, and we need adequate back up.

“This has been decades in the making, a mentality which started when the SIC decided not to put a fixed link over Yell Sound in the early 2000’s, and continued ever since.

“We had visionaries in the council chamber in the 60s who saw the Ro-Ro vessels as the future then, and they did something about it. Shetland has been seriously let down by councillors over the last 20 years by not having the same vision toward the future.

“Back in the 2000’s when Shetland had the money in an entirely different economic climate, absolutely scandalous decision making took place and we have been fighting the fires ever since. I fear it will get worse before it gets better, but we must continue to do what we can for the North Isles in the meantime.”

Meanwhile ward colleague Duncan Anderson said solutions to this ongoing disruption “must be found”.

“The isles cannot carry on like this indefinitely,” he wrote on social media.