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Transport / Hotels and sleeping in cars – reduced Yell ferry service causes problems for travellers

The council’s transport chair says the SIC does ‘not have any available staff who are appropriately qualified to stand in for sick colleagues’ at the moment

The Yell ferry Daggri.

PAYING £200 for hotel rooms, sleeping in the car overnight with a seven-month-old dog – these are some examples of the impact of crew shortages on the Yell ferry which is affecting sailings.

Due to crew sickness and a lack of cover, ferry chiefs said they were left with no option but to stop sailings between Toft and Yell beyond 7pm for much of the week.

The shortened service first started on Tuesday, and it is expected to go back to the normal timetable from Saturday onwards.

It mirrors recent disruption on the Bluemull Sound service, which runs to Unst and Fetlar, with one of the two vessels tied up for large periods of time.

At one point people were asked to consider if their journeys were essential.

Earlier this week Shetland Islands Council apologised for the inconvenience caused by the latest Yell Sound disruption – with an admission that there is not enough qualified staff available.

But the lack of evening sailings has had an impact on a number of would-be passengers – including folk being left out of pocket and people being stranded.

Two people have shared their stories of how the disruption has affected them.

Alan Skinner, who lives in Yell, said he has paid nearly £200 for a hotel stay on the Shetland mainland for himself and his daughter, who is due to visit from Australia, due to the reduced service.

This was because she is arriving off the plane in Sumburgh on Friday at 5.45pm – meaning after the bags are collected and picked up by her dad, she will likely miss the last ferry to Yell at 6.55pm.

“I’m very lucky that Busta House had rooms, because otherwise what the hell do you do for accommodation?” Skinner said.

“The two rooms alone will cost me £200. There’s no way that I can claim that on travel insurance, because it’s not as though I’ve paid for a trip in advance with a credit card.

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“This is the first time that my daughter has set foot in Shetland for more than five years, we haven’t seen her for more than three years, and we have to spend the first night in a hotel in Brae rather than being at home drinking champagne.”

Skinner, who co-runs an art gallery in Yell which relies on the tourism sector, said the continued disruption is “so damaging to Shetland’s reputation”.

“It’s absolutely outrageous – how on earth can they run a lifeline service so badly?” he said. “In the height of the tourist season…how are tourists going to know the ferry service has been cancelled?”

The ferry terminal at Toft, the gateway from the Shetland mainland to Yell, Unst and Fetlar.

Meanwhile a tourist from Aberdeen said she had to sleep in the car alongside her partner and dog on Tuesday after turning up to the Ulsta ferry terminal unaware ferry sailings to the mainland had stopped.

Joy Aiken tried one B&B in Yell but was told their last rooms had been booked by people who were similarly stuck on the island.

As it was around 9.30pm the couple did not want to be bothering anyone else, so they decided to just to bunk up in their car at the Ulsta ferry terminal.

Aiken said they had been visiting Unst and planned to take an unbooked sailing back to the Shetland mainland.

“We went to the terminal and the signs were up saying the ferries had closed earlier that evening,” she said.

“We’ve got a seven month old Westie, so she slept in the back seat and we put the seats down and slept there for the night.

“We got the first ferry in the morning at quarter past six. We got some sleep, but we had to go home and go back to our beds – the dog as well.”

She acknowledged the council put out the ferry news online but “if you’re on holiday you’re not always checking social media”.

Regardless of the ferry situation, Aiken said she and her partner have thoroughly enjoyed visiting “beautiful” Shetland.

Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall said earlier this week that she wanted acknowledge the patience shown by travellers – as well as the staff “working very hard in difficult circumstances”.

“I know how dismaying and disruptive this will be, especially to island residents, and our officers have been working hard to try to find an alternative approach,” the councillor said.

“However, at the moment on this route we simply do not have any available staff who are appropriately qualified to stand in for sick colleagues, and passenger and crew safety has to be our principal priority.

“We expect the service to return to normal at the weekend. I want to acknowledge the patience shown by the travelling public and thank our staff who are working very hard in difficult circumstances.”

In June Shetland Islands Council’s ferry and airport operations manager Andrew Inkster – responding to significant disruption on Bluemull Sound – said “we are doing everything we can to minimise disruption”.

He said staff absence from sickness was compounded by vacancies in the service, while leave – especially in the summer holidays – is another factor in the mix.

Inkster said work is ongoing in the background to look at ways to make ferry jobs more attractive, including shift patterns.

But there are strict regulations when it comes to certifications and qualifications for seafaring staff.

It comes as the salmon sector also continues to offer competitive pay and shift patterns.

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