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Transport / Disappointment all round over latest ferry disruption

Bluemull ferry Bigga approaching the Belmont ferry terminal. Photo Shetland News

THE CHAIR of the Unst Community Council says “solutions have to be found now” after more disruption was announced for the Bluemull Sound ferry service.

Claire Priest added that the community council is “extremely disappointed and frustrated” that there is more disruption on the cards.

It comes after similar disruption in May, as well as some linkspan issues during power cuts too.

Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall said she can understand frustration in the community and said the local authority is looking at “possible ways to prevent this occurring and minimise impacts”.

A spokesperson for the SIC said regarding the latest disruption that “all options using certificated crew have been explored to avoid these reductions in service”.

The SIC confirmed late on Friday afternoon that services will be affected on a few days over the coming week due to staff sickness and annual leave.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) there will be some cancelled runs between Yell and Unst, while on Sunday (7 July) there will be no service at all on Bluemull Sound between 6.10am and 5.40pm.

There will also be a single vessel service next Monday (8 July).

Speaking after Friday’s announcement, Unst Community Council chair Claire Priest said: “Following our meeting with the ferry services department we are aware of the struggles they are facing but are extremely disappointed and frustrated that yet again Unst and Fetlar are without an adequate lifeline ferry service.

“The issues need brought before the full council ASAP and solutions found now.

“It cannot go on. Everyone in the North Isles is affected by this.”

Councillor Lyall said it was “hugely disappointing” that the service has been impacted “so soon after the last disruptions to the Unst and Fetlar ferry service”.

“Crew require to have their holidays and, when this coincides with sickness, then these issues can arise,” she said.

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“Limited numbers of people are signed off to operate the ferries and nationally there is a shortage a qualified masters.

“I can understand the frustration in the community. We’re working with management to look at possible ways to prevent this occurring and minimise impacts.”

North Isles councillor Duncan Anderson wrote on social media on Friday that he was disappointed with the news, and said the level of service being provided “is not acceptable”.

“A better way forward simply must be found,” the councillor said.

He added: “I did not join the council to continuously point people in the direction of the complaints procedure”.

However Anderson said “we have been assured that all efforts have been made to avoid this outcome”.

A spokesperson for the SIC said emergency cover remains in place on 2 and 7 July.

There have been similar instances of disruption over recent years, with ferry bosses for example highlighting in 2022 struggles in recruiting as well as an increased reliance on agency staff.

‘We are doing everything we can to minimise disruption’ says SIC ferry chief

 

Figures presented to a recent council meeting showed that at the end of 2023/24, 15 per cent of full-time equivalent (FTE) posts among sea based ferry staff were vacant.

This was 19.2 FTE posts out of 131.6 budgeted posts in total.

There was also a 37 per cent vacancy rate in land based ferry operations, with 8.1 FTE posts vacant from 21.9 budgeted posts.

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