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Transport / Think about daytime NorthLink sailings, councillor urges Transport Scotland

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

A LOCAL councillor has written to Transport Scotland to urge the government agency to explore introducing daytime sailings on the NorthLink ferry service during peak months.

Ryan Thomson, who used to chair the SIC’s environment and transport committee, said there are “crippling capacity issues” on the service.

It is resulting in people often struggling to book cabins or vehicle space on the passenger ferries, which run between Aberdeen and Lerwick and link in Kirkwall.

Concern over capacity is nothing new, but Thomson has now written to Transport Scotland – which contracts Serco NorthLink to run the ferries – to implore the agency to look into daytime sailings in the summer.

Currently the Hjaltland and Hrossey will sit in the Lerwick and Aberdeen harbours from morning when they arrive until early evening when they depart.

“Day time sailings would terminate the need to book cabins for many travellers and where people would like to book a private space they could do so as cabin utilisation would be dramatically reduced,” Thomson said.

“This would result in a significant saving for travellers.

“There may be a preference for Shetlanders to continue evening sailings, therefore a mixed timetable of daytime and evening options could be easily created.

“During peak summer months, daytime and evening sailings must be introduced. What use is the vessel sitting docked for 12 hours a day when capacity is through the roof?”

The North Isles councillor claimed the idea of daytime sailings has been raised over the years, but there is yet to be a firm reason why it could not be possible.

He encouraged Transport Scotland to discuss the option with the Shetland public, the council and transport partnership ZetTrans “in a bid to find a solution to this serious problem which is leaving Shetlanders stuck in our islands, and preventing businesses and industries within Shetland from reaching it’s full potential”.

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Thomson did say, however, that he was “delighted” that Transport Scotland is exploring ‘freight plus’ vessels to replace the existing cargo ships Helliar and Hildasay.

These models would include extra cabin space for passengers.

But with the vessels set to only come into service from 2026, “four further years of crippling capacity issues cannot be sustained, especially when there is a very quick and easy solution”.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said in response that it remains “open to working with local stakeholders to consider other initiatives, which are both practical and offer value for money”.

When it comes to freight ships, the spokesperson said the planned development of the two new vessels will address capacity in the longer term, “but we continue to explore potential shorter term actions that could alleviate some pressures on the freight service”.

Meanwhile, Laurence Odie, the chairman of the Yell Community Council, was one of six representatives from island communities in Scotland to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s net zero, energy and transport committee on the subject of a ‘modern and sustainable ferry service in Scotland’.

The session can be watched here.

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