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Marine / Papa Stour community’s concern at ‘lack of consultation’ on electric boat trial

It has been confirmed that a fully-electric boat will temporarily replace the Papa Stour ferry during a four-week trial in 2025

Photo: Shetland News

THE SMALL community of Papa Stour says there has been a “total lack of consultation” with residents over plans to trial a fully-electric vessel on the island’s ferry route.

It has now been confirmed to Shetland News that the UK-first trial – announced last week – would see an electric boat take over the Papa Stour ferry route for around four weeks in 2025.

A spokesperson for Shetland Islands Council, which operates the Papa Stour ferry, said this is subject to the vessel meeting the required MCA certification to carry passengers, among other items such as shoreside infrastructure and linkspans.

But the island community say news of the project’s funding last week came completely out of the blue.

More than £6 million of UK Government funding has been pledged for the project, which is being led by the Devon based company Coastal Workboats.

The company said it offered a chance to demonstrate the viability of electric boat technology. The project also involves local company BK Marine.

A spokesperson for Coastal Workboats confirmed that the four-week demonstration – which is also subject to successful sea trials – will involve passengers and cargo, with the electric vessel replacing the Snolda for the duration of the trial.

Digital render of the new Coastal Workboats E-LUV prototype.

They also said Shetland Islands Council was involved in discussions regarding the project.

The spokesperson said the route, between Papa Stour and West Burrafirth, was chosen “simply because we received an enquiry for a similar vessel and the operating profile seemed well suited for the net zero project”.

The boat in question would be recharged by an onshore power unit, which can also be carried on deck.

The council, though, stressed that the details of the trial still needs to be planned and agreed – with the community set to be involved in the process.

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Development director Neil Grant said: “We have offered our support to this trial to explore options to decarbonise our transport network, where our ferries are a major component.

“We’re pleased to see this successful award of UKRI funding to Coastal Workboats Ltd and we look forward to working with them and the Papa Stour community on the operational detail of the trial.”

But Papa Stour community councillor Jane Puckey and resident crofter Andy Holt have expressed concern at the move.

They said there is a feeling the island, located off Shetland’s West mainland, is being used as “guinea pigs in this trial with scant thought being given as to how we view it”.

“The Papa folk rely on the ferry for their livelihood and even what might be perceived as ‘only a month’s trial’ could cause major inconvenience and disruption for everyone,” they said.

Jane Puckey. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

The pair also stressed the importance of having the Snolda ready to “pick up the slack” if the electric boat encounters any problems.

“Ideally they two should run alongside each other for the duration of the trial,” they said.

The image of a prototype vessel which was released by Coastal Workboats last week has also given residents some concern.

They suggest the design mooted in the prototype would be too small in terms of capacity and would not be able to carry the present level of traffic, whilst it appears to lack lifting gear.

The pair also raised the shallow draft of the prototype boat, pondering if it would restrict sailings due to weather conditions on the route.

Meanwhile Puckey and Holt are also seeking assurance that the council will not “outsource our present trustworthy and highly efficient council run ferry service to a private company or to run the service in conjunction with the Foula service”.

The government funding for the project came from the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition.

The estimated total cost of the project sits at around £9 million.

Evolving marine technology is of interest locally considering around half of Shetland Islands Council’s emissions come from the diesel-powered inter-island ferry fleet.

Fixed links have been talked up as a more environmentally solution in the long-term, but these would not be suitable for routes to more remote islands like Papa Stour.

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