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Community / “I hope NorthLink listens to our concern’ – online petitioner writes to ferry company boss

NorthLink passenger ferry Hjaltland arriving at Lerwick Harbour. Photo: Shetland News

A PETITION set up online to urge NorthLink to act on its hugely controversial sleeping arrangements for passengers has reached over 1,700 signatures.

Lerwick woman Sarah Stove, who two and a half weeks ago started the petition to highlight how many people find the sleeping pods uncomfortable, has now sent a letter to managing director Stuart Garrett to reiterate her points.

She said she set up the petition after seeing photos shared on social media of children and elderly people sleeping on the floor during a busy crossing at the end of June.

“Seeing the photo of the passengers sleeping on the floor, and the realisation that it’s definitely not just me who has issues sleeping in the pods, prompted me to set up the petition,” she said.

“A complaint was made several years ago about the pods, and I remember reading the response from Stuart Garrett at the time was ‘we think people enjoy the pods’. So, I set up the petition to show that people don’t enjoy them.”

Transport Scotland said seating arrangements were available for all 585 passengers on board that night in June, as both NorthLink vessels can hold 600 people at full capacity.

However, on that particular sailing (30 June) 76 cabin berths were unused mainly due to Covid and single occupancy rules.

Previously, passengers could request a shared two or four-berth cabin. However, these options were scrapped during the pandemic and have never been brought back in.

NorthLink Ferries has claimed this is because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, and the changing attitudes on gender identity making it difficult to segregate ‘male’ and ‘female’ shared cabins.

Stove used the pods with her husband around eight years ago and found them “uncomfortable”. She said she had to put her legs on a table to sleep, while her husband attempted to sleep on the floor.

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Instead of the pods, Stove suggested a Japanese capsule system. Capsule hotels are a popular budget option in Japan, giving users access to a small capsule featuring a horizontal bed.

“I think the Japanese capsule system would be a great idea,” she said.

“I’m aware the rules state you can only have more passengers with extra seats. I have asked in my letter for them to point out the legislation that states we can’t have beds instead of pods.

“If we can’t have beds, they should at least have comfortable chairs.”

Stove added that this single berth capsule option would be a way around the segregation of ‘male’ and ‘female’ shared berths, as everyone would have access to their own single bed.

In her letter to Garrett, she highlighted how the capacity issues have ongoing effects for passengers the next day, stating: “There’s an issue for athletes who are expected to compete the day after they get off the boat. When a coach can’t book cabins for their team, and the athletes have to use the pods, the team are not in good condition to compete.”

Stove added: “There’s also the problem of people who need to get off Shetland in an emergency. They might have to drive a few hundred miles when they get off the ferry and require a good night’s sleep to be able to drive safely.

“I’m hoping that Mr Garrett will listen to my concerns, and the many people who have signed the petition, and understand that something must change.

“I think that the money from all the unused beds that passengers have paid for should go towards changing the pods.”

Other measures have been proposed to tackle the capacity issue on the NorthLink ferries, including adding in additional daytime sailings during peak summer months.

NorthLink Ferries declined to comment.

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