By RYAN TAYLOR
DAY time sailings to Orkney should be offered by NorthLink to help ease the pressure on its nightly ferry service to Aberdeen.
Coach tour operator Andrew Morrison, of Andrew’s Adventures, said the Hjaltand and Hrossey should offer a daily service to Orkney in addition to the nightly run south.
Mr Morrison, who regularly takes groups of around 50 people on tours to the mainland and abroad, believes the additional service would help address the problems he has experienced in securing cabins for his customers in recent months.
He said two ferries leaving Aberdeen and Lerwick and meeting halfway in Kirkwall could solve NorthLink’s longstanding problem of cabin shortages.
He added NorthLink had promised to look at the move if demand was there when it first took over the service from P&O in 2002.
“They gave a presentation and the project manager at the time said during the summer time the intention would be to introduce a through the day service.
“Here the boat arrives at 7.30 in the morning. It could turn around, go back to Orkney and be back in Shetland before its sailing south. That was the statement that was made at the beginning and it’s been completely forgotten about. It makes total sense during the summer months.
“It would take some of the pressure off the cabins for the next sailing, and would make more sense for tourist operators.”
Mr Morrison said he disliked going through Orkney on the regular nightly sailings because the way the timetable is structured means his customers are denied a comfortable experience during the journey.
“I’m put off by going through Orkney because to catch the boat it’s 11.30 at night when you are going north.
“You have a group of often elderly people who you have to entertain all day.
“Very often they’ve got to check out of a hotel by 11am, and you have to wonder, what do you do until midnight?
“It’s a turn off for a tour organiser to have to do that kind of thing.”
He said the daily service would give tourists the chance to visit Orkney for lunchtime and be back in Shetland in time for tea.
And because they would be daytime sailings, they could be offered without cabins, which could be saved up for the evening run.
He said the change could redress the ferry service’s balance, currently weighed vastly in favour of Orkney over Shetland.
“Shetland people haven’t appreciated that Orkney gets the choice of 10 crossings per day to go to mainland Scotland. In Orkney you can go to the mainland from six am to nine or 10pm at night. We’re sharing a boat with Orkney, but we’re hugely disadvantaged.
“I travel more than most and when you travel once a year on holiday you accept the circumstances because it’s just that day you’re doing it.
“But if you use it regularly you realise what a rotten service you are getting. As a tour operator organising trips south it’s very difficult and very expensive. It’s not an anti-Orkney thing, it’s just that I’m against the service as it stands.”
A spokesman for NorthLink said daily sailings would require a change to the government contract.
“Orkney daily sailings may indeed have been mentioned seven years ago as a possibility, and a possibility remains.
“Any change to the terms of our operating contract – and adding a daily daylight service to Orkney – would be a significant change, and would have to be agreed with the Scottish government.”
Network development manager for transport partnership ZetTrans Ken Duerden said there had been no “formal request” for daily sailings to Orkney, although he did not expect it was something that would catch on.
“I wouldn’t expect it to be universally popular because it would mean having extra crew and fuel burn, and that would require an adjustment to the operating contract.”