Transport / Ferry officials travelled to New Zealand to inspect and bid on ‘freight plus’ vessel – but offer was rejected

NorthLink freight boat Hildasay.

A “SUBSTANTIAL” bid was recently placed for a ‘freight plus’ vessel to add extra capacity on the Northern Isles ferry service – but it was turned down.

Staff from Serco NorthLink Ferries and CMAL, the Scottish Government company which owns ferries, even travelled to New Zealand last month to view the ship.

Speaking at a meeting of the Shetland external transport forum on Wednesday, Transport Scotland’s Alan McCabe said the agency was unsure as to why the bid was rejected.

He said the offer was substantial and competitive.

The vessel in question would have offered space for around 200 passengers and could have been in service as early as the summer.

McCabe said a lot of work went into the bid – with divers even dispatched to inspect the hull – and there was plenty of disappointment about the outcome.

Capacity on the Northern Isles ferry service has been a long running issue, and those involved have constantly said they are on the lookout for extra tonnage.


McCabe also reiterated that NorthLink was approached about the Bore Bay cargo ship last year, but it was deemed unsuitable.

The vessel made a special stop-off in Lerwick recently with Viking Energy wind farm materials during a trip around Europe.

Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett denied suggestion that the ship could not berth in Aberdeen, and said it was discounted for “additional considerations” including prospective timetabling.

He said a range of factors are taken into account when considering additional vessels, from draught, manoeuvrability, the need for pilot vessels or tugs and harbour berthing.

But Garrett said NorthLink was satisfied that the service would be covered for capacity for the livestock season last year.

Meanwhile external transport chair Councillor Moraig Lyall said there were two positives to come from the disappointment of the rejected vessel bid.

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She said the fact that staff travelled to New Zealand to inspect the vessel showed commitment to trying for extra capacity – while it also highlighted officials recognise the issues at play on the service at the moment.

Meanwhile Transport Scotland officials also said work continues behind the scenes on preparing for NorthLink bookings opening up beyond October.

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