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Transport / SIC has ‘scanned the horizons’ for additions to ferry fleet

It comes as the council continues to rely on its spare vessel Fivla ‘very heavily’

The Fivla at the Lerwick ferry terminal this evening. Photo: SIC

THE COUNCIL has been exploring the idea of bringing in extra ferries to support the ageing local fleet – with vessels of interest identified in Faroe and Åland in the last few months.

However, both of those vessels were not available.

Infrastructure director John Smith also suggested a key issue is finding vessels which are suited to the heavy sea conditions which are often found in Shetland.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the SIC’s environment and transport committee by North Isles member Robert Thomson.

He questioned whether the council had looked at bringing in extra tonnage or leasing vessels to support the existing fleet.

It comes as the Skerries ferry Filla remains out of action following engine problems, while the Yell ferry Daggri is currently in scheduled dry dock.

A report to councillors said the SIC continues to rely “very heavily” on its spare vessel Fivla.

“As the fleets age increases, docking periods are inevitably longer, and breakdowns are also becoming more frequent,” it said.

“This places significant demands on this vessel, and service disruption has been experienced where multiple issues arise.”

Thomson said: “I think our ferry service is pretty fragile at the moment and I think that we really have to look to some sort of interim solution of extra tonnage being made available.”

Smith said that the SIC has “tried to scan the horizons” regarding extra vessels.

He added that while the SIC looks towards the longer-term outlook for its transport network, it is important to continue to focus on the interim.

“We are challenged to maintain the timetable with the current fleet,” Smith said before warning that the situation is not likely to improve.

“We’re doing quite well to do as well as we are, but it only takes one or two more issues and then that becomes that much more problematic.”

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There also continues to be issues with recruitment and retention when it comes to the ferry service, which is reflected across the whole SIC.

A report to councillors highlighted how 42 per cent of the total budgeted full-time equivalent (FTE) posts in the ferry operations’ land based staff were vacant at quarter three of 2023/24.

There are 28 budgeted FTE posts in that area.

For sea based staff 16 per cent of the 132 budgeted FTE posts were vacant.

Ferry/air operations and port infrastructure manager Andrew Inkster also told Monday’s meeting that the council is having to use external contractors for some work.

He added that work is continuing to engage with management and union representatives in a bid to make working on the ferries more attractive, with progress being made in some areas.

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