By JOHN ROBERTSON
FAST and economical catamaran ferries should be considered for Shetland’s inter-island routes and the link with the Scottish mainland, SIC ferries board chairman Robert Henderson believes.
A wide-ranging government review of Scotland’s ferry services has just got under way which aims to reshape services to islands to make them fit for the next 14 years. One area it will look at is new vessels, including faster and more fuel-efficient ferries, such as catamarans.
Mr Henderson and other councillors are watching with interest as Orkney-based entrepreneur Andrew Banks prepares to put his brand-new 70-metre catamaran Pentalina into action on his company’s subsidy-free service across the Pentland Firth.
The medium-speed catamaran has four engines, does up to 21 knots and can carry 250 passengers and 85 cars. According to Mr Henderson she will also be very economical in comparison to conventional ferries, having heard that she would burn in a week what the NorthLink ship Hamnavoe uses in a day to cross the firth.
Unfortunately for Mr Banks, the Pentalina is already four months late arriving from the FBMA Marine shipyard in the Philippines. Problems at the yard were followed by fuel problems on her way across the Indian Ocean which has kept her tied up in Oman for over a month. A spokeswoman in Orkney said she was expected to resume her delivery trip by the end of this week or into next week.
Many ferry routes across the world have much faster and larger catamarans than the Pentalina, including on the Irish Sea and the English Channel. Brittany Ferries’ Normandie Express is 98m long and carries 850 passengers and 235 cars.
Councillor Jim Henry was impressed by his recent run on Condor Ferries’ fast catamarans which ply between England, France and the Channel Islands at speeds of over 40 knots. He said using such ships could mean crossings to Aberdeen of five or six hours instead of the present 12-13½ hour voyage.
The Western Isles is showing interest in catamarans for its ferry routes too with the islands’ MP Angus MacNeil and some Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillors following the story of the Pentalina.
SIC ferry services manager Ken Duerden told last Friday’s meeting of the SIC inter-island ferries board that in the past CalMac had not opted for catamarans for its west coast ferry fleet due to concerns about reliability and capability during bad weather. However, he said these aspects had improved considerably in recent years.
The ferries board heard the latest plans for the government’s ferries review, which is entirely separate from the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into ferries earlier this year. It will encompass all publicly funded ferry services and will consider opening some routes up to tender and ditching ferries in favour of tunnels and bridges, if appropriate. Ways in which vulnerable island communities can be helped through adjusting fares will be looked at too.
Ferry services manager Ken Duerden said one of the main issues he hoped to get Shetland’s point across to the government on was the next Northern Isles contract. NorthLink’s service is up for renewal in 2012 with tendering to get under way in autumn next year. Another issue to lobby on is ferry subsidies. He said the government was now realising there were more ways of setting cheaper fares than just road equivalent tariff, which it is piloting in the Western Isles. The ferries review will include consultation with island residents next summer.