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Transport / Ferry capacity at a ‘breaking point’, SNP MSP says

AN SNP MSP representing the Highlands and Islands says the situation with the Northern Isles ferry service capacity is “now at a breaking point”.

Emma Roddick also said she supported calls for action on the matter.

It comes after photos showed how people, including older folk, were forced to “compete” for floor space on an overnight ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen last week as they tried to get some sleep.

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Flights out of Shetland that day were cancelled due to fog and as a result the boat to Aberdeen was just shy of its full 600 passenger capacity as people tried to get south.

It all led to Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael requesting that transport officials meet with the Shetland public to discuss the capacity concerns. He said on Monday morning that he had not heard back yet.

Emma Roddick MSP in Shetland at the weekend.

The service is run by Serco NorthLink and is subsidised by the Scottish Government.

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“I support calls for action following the unacceptable reports over the last week of severe overcrowding,” Roddick told Shetland News.

“It’s not a surprise to anyone who has struggled to get space on the ferry that capacity has long been an issue, but this is now at a breaking point.

“It is right that the Scottish Government is focusing on reversing depopulation in the island communities – that has to start with making lifeline transport services usable.

“I am always happy to meet with NorthLink and constituents to raise specific issues and press for improvements.”

Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston meanwhile has written to NorthLink and the Scottish transport minister on the matter.

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“These vital links are part of the public franchise and so the transport minister and Transport Scotland will need to play a key role in working with NorthLink to find a solution,” he said.

“This isn’t just a problem on the boats serving Orkney and Shetland, and is an issue across Scotland’s ferry network.

“But given the length of journeys, and lack of viable alternatives for many island residents, it is particular challenge for those in the Northern Isles.”

In a response issued on Friday, government agency Transport Scotland said all 585 passengers on board had a seat available, as per maritime regulations.

It also said a total of 88 people were on board who had flights cancelled, which “may have made the sailing seem busier than usual or what was expected”.

The agency added that there were no approaches made to crew regarding welfare issues.

Operator Serco NorthLink also said all passengers reached their destination safely.

However Transport Scotland saying a seat was available for every passenger did not sit well with one Shetland councillor.

Ryan Thomson, who has written to Transport Scotland to push the idea of daytime sailings in peak periods, said a seat for an overnight ferry journey is not adequate.

“Get the timetable sorted so folk have a choice between day time and evening sailings which will ensure, in the short term, that people who want a cabin, and need a cabin, get a cabin,” he added.

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