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Transport / Talks continuing over NorthLink ships using shore power in Lerwick and Aberdeen

Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

DISCUSSIONS are well underway regarding the NorthLink vessels Hjaltland and Hrossey tapping into shore power when berthed in Lerwick and Aberdeen, a parliament meeting has heard.

Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said “huge advances” have already been made in moving towards a reduction in emissions when it comes to the ports.

He was speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s net zero, energy and transport committee on Tuesday morning as MSPs sought evidence on the topic of a modern and sustainable ferry service for Scotland.

All of the NorthLink vessels are fuel-powered, but Garrett said the Hamnavoe, which runs between Orkney and the Scottish mainland, now takes in power from shore every evening when berthed in Stromness.

He confirmed that the Hjaltland and Hrossey passenger vessels, which link Aberdeen, Lerwick and Kirkwall, are essentially almost ready to do the same when they are berthed overnight.

This power would not be for propulsion.

Talks are continuing with Lerwick Port Authority and the harbour in Aberdeen regarding “shore hook-up for electric power” in both areas.

Serco NorthLink Ferries’ managing director Stuart Garrett.

Garrett said the Hjaltland and Hrossey have around ten years of lifespan left, and no change in propulsion method would be introduced until replacement ships are brought in.

“The way the ships are constructed, you wouldn’t look to change the propulsion system in the vessels we’re operating,” he said.

Garrett added that in terms of future propulsion methods the Northern Isles routes – which include 12 or 14 hour trips to and from Lerwick – are greatly different than shorter journeys.

“The type of power you’d be looking to use, the availability of fuel – it’s a very early stage in the market,” he said.

Meanwhile the NorthLink chief reiterated that decisions around weather cancellations on the service are never made for commercial reasons.

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“We often get challenged as to why the ships haven’t sailed, or why it has been delayed,” he said.

“I would never, ever let commercial considerations interfere with the master’s decision making process.”

Garrett said advances in forecasting over the years have enabled crews to take a more consistent approach to how NorthLink deals with weather disruption decision making.

There have been around 86 cancellations on the service a year on average over the last decade.

“The days are long gone of ships going out not really knowing what the forecast is likely to be, but you can see over the horizon and you set to,” Garrett said. “Things have changed.”

He also praised the collaboration between service operator Serco NorthLink, the contracting agency Transport Scotland and CMAL, the Scottish Government company which owns the ferries.

Garrett referenced the engagement which is ongoing regarding potential new freight vessels, which has resulted in designs being made up.

The NorthLink boss refuted a suggestion that the connection between the three parties may be “disjointed”.

However committee convener Edward Mountain MSP said that may be more of an issue for ferry services on the west of Scotland.

The meeting also heard contributions from CalMac Ferries and also ferry experts from Norway.

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