By JOHN ROBERTSON
A DISPUTE is rumbling between the councils in Shetland and Orkney over who should pay for damage to an Orkney ferry during a special trip to Fair Isle in the summer.
Orkney’s biggest inter-island ferry Varagen goes into drydock in Fraserburgh next week to have new propeller blades fitted after hitting the Fair Isle ferry’s slipway at the end of a successful day trip in July with 126 passengers from Kirkwall, including a pipe band.
The incident happened as she was manoeuvring to leave the tight confines of the North Haven. The 164-foot ro-ro ferry is reputed to be the biggest-ever vessel to tie up in the harbour. As she backed away from the quay onlookers heard what was described as “a nasty, expensive-sounding noise” and passengers felt a bump. When the Fair Islanders later went to launch the Good Shepherd down the slip her cradle stuck on the rail and a boulder was found to have been thrown up onto it, possibly by a thruster or churning propeller.
A visiting yacht also apparently suffered a broken small navigation light after the slightest of impacts.
The ferry steamed off without any problem and it was only later that the damage to her port propeller was discovered, although she has been able to continue in service.
Ironically the manager of ferry services with the council-owned Orkney Ferries is David Sawkins, a former ferries manager with the SIC. Reports have been circulating in Shetland that he was effectively suing his former colleagues over the information available about harbour depths. He quashed that rumour on Wednesday when he spoke to The Shetland Times, saying that discussions about liability were ongoing between insurance companies at this stage. “We’re nowhere near the stage of suing anyone yet. It’s just an insurance matter.”
He said the propeller had lost some of its tips but declined to reveal the likely cost of the damage and repairs although he did not quibble with the suggestion it would be “many thousands”. She is expected to be out of service for five days.
After the day trip Orkney Ferries was considering making it an annual event. Mr Sawkins said that had still not been decided one way or the other. “It was an absolutely cracking day and a very good social event and everything else, just like it was supposed to be,” he said. “The people in Fair Isle were their normal excellent hosts.”
SIC marine operations manager Roger Moore confirmed the matter was in the hands of insurers. Safety and risk manager Sandra Pearson said she wasn’t able to comment on insurance claims.