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Transport / Step forward for freighter plus project as refined design gives positive results

A previous possible design of a freight plus vessel.

THE DESIGN of replacement Northern Isles freight vessels has taken a “major step forward”, a meeting heard this afternoon (Tuesday).

Transport Scotland’s head of ferries Chris Wilcock said a refined design has produced “very positive results” in testing.

He was giving an update on the project at a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Tuesday.

The government agency is looking at replacements for the current NorthLink freight vessels Hildasay and Helliar.

Transport officials are working towards a freighter plus design – essentially a cargo ship with sizeable passenger capacity which could hold up to 200 people.

It is hoped that this would alleviate capacity on the NorthLink passenger boats in peak periods.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting Wilcock said there had been challenges in the design process, particularly in “windage” and how it would perform at Aberdeen Harbour.

He said CMAL, which owns ferries for the Northern and Western Isles, and operator Serco NorthLink then further refined design, and carried out more testing.

The meeting heard that this then showed that the latest design would perform at least as well as, or better than, the current vessels.

Wilcock said the next step involves around six months of work to design the vessel up to a tender.

“In parallel we will be working with CMAL on a business case to help inform any investment decision,” he said.

At the moment Transport Scotland still does not have funding committed from the government, but the agency is working on the plans to make them “shovel ready”.

Previous timescales has placed potential delivery in 2028/29 but Wilcock said this would be refined as work progresses.

Highlighting that Transport Scotland will make a “strong case” for the replacement ferries, he added: “We are keen to see this progress as much as anybody else.”

Forum chair councillor Moraig Lyall said the boats having extra capacity for passengers would be very beneficial for the community.

“I think we’re all really anticipating that this will be a bit of a gamechanger,” she said.

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