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Transport / Shared cabins are not coming back, NorthLink boss insists

‘The door is closed’, NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett on shared cabins. Photo: Shetland News

THE DOORS on reintroducing shared cabins on NorthLink ferries are closed and will remain closed, company chief executive Stuart Garrett confirmed on Tuesday.

Garrett was responding to queries from Shetland News after transport minister Fiona Hyslop during a recent visit to the isles placed the contentious issue firmly in his court.

The company boss and his team were in Shetland on Tuesday to give presentations and answer questions at a poorly attended meeting of the Shetland external transportation forum.

Garrett said the removal of the option for budget travellers to share a cabin on the overnight service between Shetland and the Scottish mainland had already been on the cards, and it was the Covid pandemic that made it a reality.

“We as the operator are responsible for the operational activity. The decision to withdraw shared cabins was mine ultimately as the operator, and that has been done and has been reported here at ZetTrans over several meetings,” h said.

“The door is closed. Covid in many ways was a catalyst for reflecting where the risk was in certain areas of our business, and we identified shared cabins as being a risk.”

He said that some of the incidents staff on board the vessels had to deal with “you wouldn’t believe” – but he declined to give further details.

Garrett added that NorthLink was comfortable with passengers finding fellow travellers to share a cabin as this would then be “their responsibility” rather than that of the company.

“We are not querying that; if that’s a choice that individual members of society wish to make that would be their choice, but it is not something that myself and my role in NorthLink would be prepared to take accountability for.”

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Garrett reported that during the first eight months of the year passenger numbers on the Shetland service had grown by 15 percent to 84,000.

Cabin sales were also up considerably compared to previous years with July 2023 being a record month.

And he added that the results of a recent customer satisfaction survey was very different from the responses local MSP Beatrice Wishart received to her own survey.

Responding to continued concern that capacity issues were restricting local people in their ability to travel when it suits them best, he said that the 120 cabins on board the vessels were being sold on a first come first serve basis.

However, bookings were open until the 31 March 2024, the longest it has ever been, he said, adding that he was hopeful that fares for the period beyond the 1 April would be announced by Transport Scotland in the not too distant future.

And he revealed that the company was close to introducing a new feature on its website that would allow people to see when cabins and cardeck spaces available were available in an attempt to help in their travel planning.

Introducing additional capacity on the route in the form of the much anticipated ‘freighter plus’ is however still many years away.

Garrett confirmed that at the end of October additional computer simulations crucial for the design of the two new vessels will be taking place in Holland.

“If we are getting freight plus with 200 passenger capacity and maybe 40 cabins, that would be an absolute game changer,” he said.

However, while Transport Scotland is committed to bringing the vessel design to the business case stage, there is no government decision yet on financing the ships’ construction.

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