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Transport / SIC taking action after ferry linkspan issues during power cuts

The Bigga at Belmont pier.

THE COUNCIL says it is taking “immediate action” after the Bluemull Sound ferry service was brought to a standstill during two recent power cuts.

The latest incident was on Tuesday when more than 1,000 properties lost power for most of the evening due to a fault on the network, affecting the operation of the Belmont ferry terminal linkspan in the process.

There were also problems with linkspans – the moveable ramps which allow vehicles to move on and off the ferries – in Belmont and Gutcher earlier this month following a power cut.

In both instances there were issues with linkspan standby generators.

With another power cut in Yell on Wednesday morning, it comes amid growing frustration at what some residents feel to be a increasing number of power cuts in Shetland’s North Isles.

During the power cut earlier this month the standby generator at the Belmont linkspan in Unst was found to have an internal fault, with a replacement brought in.

At Gutcher in Yell an engineer attended the site and found that the standby generator had not been left in the ‘auto’ position following routine weekly checks.

This week the power cut tripped the changeover panel at Belmont, meaning that power from the standby generator was not directed to the linkspan hydraulics.

A spokesperson for Shetland Islands Council (SIC) said an engineer was dispatched to reset the changeover panel, and power was immediately restored. The issue was not related to the replacement generator brought in earlier this month.

One sailing from Hamarsness in Fetlar to Gutcher on Thursday was also cancelled due to an issue with the Belmont linkspan.

The problems with the ferries on Tuesday night came as Bluemull Sound was getting back to normal after a period of disruption caused by a lack of cover for crew sickness.

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In correspondence with Unst Community Council, the SIC’s ferry operations manager Andrew Inkster said he has now implemented a course of action with immediate effect. This includes:

  • DH Marine visiting all sites where new huts have been installed to run a series of tests to ensure systems are working as they should be
  • The council looking to install a temporary bypass system in the event of other failure which would allow an operator to lift a linkspan by the use of a manual valve
  • The SIC looking to further investigate the generators and their suitability
  • Improving the troubleshooting guide provided to vessel engineers

The SIC also intends to commission an independent hydraulic expert to create a formal report.

Inkster also told the community council that he agreed that not having a back-up to ensure that “emergency services and other stakeholders can access the island during power cuts is unacceptable”.

“We’ve had stand-by systems at our terminals for decades, and to my knowledge, never experienced these kinds of issues,” he said.

Meanwhile North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson raised the apparent increased regularity of power cuts in the area with SSEN in early May, but had to email again after receiving no reply.

He said it was “shameful and embarrassing” for SSEN not to respond to correspondence from an elected member.

But the energy giant eventually did get back to Thomson on Wednesday, with an apologetic representative saying that the councillor’s concerns would be raised to senior management and that the repeat power outages would be investigated fully.

Thomson added that it was “absolutely unacceptable” that there were issues with the ferries during power cuts twice in a relatively short space of time.

“It is concerning that frequent power outages appear to be becoming the norm, which is in itself unacceptable,” he said.

A spokesperson for SSEN Distribution said: “We appreciate the challenges that can arise if the power is off, and we’d like to thank our customers on the North Isles for their patience as our teams worked hard to restore their supplies.

“We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank the local ferry crews for their ongoing support and flexibility, it’s much appreciated by our teams travelling to and from their fault restoration works.”

The spokesperson said on Wednesday afternoon that staff were in Yell investigating the background to the fault which caused Tuesday’s power cut, with a view to carrying out a permanent repair once the cause has been established.

“Following on from contact we’ve received from Councillor Thomson regarding the reliability of local supplies, our executive complaints team will be corresponding with him directly to resolve the points he has raised,” they added.

However at the time of writing the energy firm did not respond to the wider issue of concerns about an apparent increased incidence of power cuts.

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