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Transport / Daytime sailing talks continue

There is also criticism over freight capacity during livestock season – with claims the opportunity to charter a vessel was turned down

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

DISCUSSIONS are continuing over the prospect of daytime sailings on the Northern Isles ferry route.

Meanwhile additional tonnage was sought for the peak livestock season on the NorthLink ferry service but none was available at the time, according to Transport Scotland.

A spokesperson for the government agency said a vessel will be chartered if available and required.

It comes after a group which represents the seafood and haulage industries in Shetland claimed the opportunity to charter a suitable vessel to ease capacity pressure during the livestock season was turned down by Serco NorthLink Ferries.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland and representing the Stewart Building Transport Group, said: “It is very clear that despite what government say, there is absolutely no intention to resolve the pressure on the Lerwick – Aberdeen – Lerwick route for the 2022 livestock shipping season.”

The Stewart Building Transport Group said a ro/ro cargo ship became available from shipping company, Sea Cargo, due to a change to its schedule on Scandinavian routes.

It said chartering the boat “could have eased the extreme pressure that is brought to bear on the existing passenger and freight service” for the livestock season, during which a slightly altered freight timetable is put in place. 

The peak livestock season generally runs through a six to eight week period in September and October, and there is advance consultation held between ferry operator Serco NorthLink Ferries and livestock customers.

The group said the revised schedule removes the Monday night freight sailing from the timetable to accommodate Orkney livestock sailings.

“At the same time, Shetland livestock shipments and returning trailers put significant pressure on both north and south bound sailings,” the group added.

The Stewart Building Transport Group previously proposed the idea of additional daytime sailings on the passenger ships in the peak livestock season to free up more space on the cargo boats.

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Meanwhile Scott said “turning down an entirely suitable freight vessel out of hand is beyond disappointing”.

“However, it is sadly what Shetland’s exporting seafood industry have come to expect,” he said.

“It comes on the back of our proposal to introduce daytime sailings, which has been ignored, and the commissioning of a comprehensive review of the service – encompassing all of Shetland’s economy – which was presented in April. This too has been ignored.”

Scott also expressed concern over the proposed two replacement Northern Isles freight boats, considering funding has not yet been identified for their construction.

A Transport Scotland said spokesperson in response to the Stewart Building Group’s latest concern: “With regards to the peak livestock season, Serco NorthLink Ferries (SNF) take into account all available data to allow informed decisions to be made to ease capacity issues during peaks in demand.

“Transport Scotland and SNF are continuing with discussions on daytime sailings.

“Additional tonnage was sought by the operator when looking forward to the peak livestock season, but no tonnage was available at that time.

“CMAL [Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd] and SNF continue to search the market on our behalf and will charter a suitable vessel if available and required.”

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