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Council / Contract for new Fair Isle ferry could be awarded mid-January

MORE details have been revealed about what Shetland Islands Council is looking for in a new Fair Isle ferry.

The council recently went out to tender on a replacement vessel, with the contract expected to be awarded in mid-January.

The aim is for the ship to be delivered by the end of October 2025, with the contract value £5.4 million excluding VAT.

The tender process is based on 50 per cent quality, and 50 per cent price.

The Fair Isle ferry Good Shepherd IV is due to be replaced by 2026. Photo: SIC

The priorities for the vessel include a proven design, sufficient cargo volume, a strengthened hull for regular linkspan, quay and slipway operations, and passenger safety.

In this case a proven design means a vessel based on a previously built design which has been in service for at least 19 months.

The design of the steel monohull workboat must be no less than 22 metres in overall length.

It should cater for 12 passengers – the same as the current Good Shepherd – and four crew, with a minimum speed of 10.2 knots.

The replacement boat stands to be the first ro-ro ship to be used on the Fair Isle route, and the council said it has to be suitable for motor vehicles up to the size of a non-articulated HGV.

It has specified an indoor passenger salon which is wheelchair accessible, unlike the current boat, and the tender also asks for an accessible toilet.

The replacement Fair Isle ferry project has been awarded nearly £27 million from the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which will go towards a vessel as well as harbour upgrades for Fair Isle and Grutness on the Shetland mainland.

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But Shetland Islands Council has previously warned about the tight timescale attributed to the funding award for delivering the vessel.

Chair of the Fair Isle Community Association David Parnaby said the overwhelming feeling on the island around the project is “excitement”.

“There’s a lot of gratitude for the hard work from SIC and others that has gone into getting the project this far,” he said.

“There’s no doubt it’s a big investment and a big project – although of course it’s the first investment in a new ferry Fair Isle has had for a long time – and folk here are fairly confident in how it’s progressing, I would say.”

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council leader Emma Macdonald said: “The publication of the contract notice for the vessel tender is an important step forward for the project to replace the Fair Isle ferry.

“In recent months, the project team have been working on many aspects of the project, including design details, planning applications and environmental impact assessments.

“There’s a tight timescale ahead but this project remains on schedule, so councillors can consider the final business case by the end of this calendar year.”

Shetland North councillor Tom Morton.

Councillor Tom Morton, however, said he felt it is unlikely that the project will meet time targets – and expressed concern that costs could rise too.

The council has been trying to recruit a deckhand for the Good Shepherd, with a recent media push to attract interest in the role.

Writing on social media, the Shetland North councillor said questioned if a new ferry has to be based in Fair Isle and crewed by islanders.

“Does the expertise and workforce for that exist? he asked.

“A multi-use vessel serving not just Fair Isle but other remote Shetland isles, based in and crewed from Lerwick, would require neither a vastly expensive Fair Isle base nor difficult, probably impossible to recruit local crew.

“It would be far more viable, economically and practically.”

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