Faroe’s Prime Minister was formulating an official reply to SIC convener Sandy Cluness this week after his demand for action regarding Shetland’s greatly devalued £4.2 million investment in Smyril Line.
The Shetland Times revealed last week there had been no reply or acknowledgment for the letter Mr Cluness fired off two months ago in which he sought the return of the money or, alternatively, for the ferry Norröna to resume its summer visits to Shetland.
With the weeks ticking by it was beginning to look like Shetland was being snubbed by its island neighbour but Prime Minister Kaj Leo Johannesen’s communications adviser Páll Nolsøe said on Wednesday a reply was “in progress” and would be despatched “in the coming days”. He did not know why there had been a delay and declined to comment on the nature of the letter’s contents and whether Faroe might offer to recompense Shetland.
The £4.2m was pumped in by Shetland Development Trust in 2001 to enable Faroe’s Smyril Line to build the new Norröna after the company had failed to raise the funds elsewhere. As part of an agreement the ship called into Lerwick regularly after her launch in early 2003, creating a valuable boost for tourism and brightening up Shetland each summer with hundreds of Scandinavian visitors. But Smyril was losing money and as soon as the terms of the agreement expired it cut Lerwick from its itinerary after the 2007 season.
The council twice tried to put more money into the shipping line to retain its Shetland link but its offers were not taken up. Eventually Shetland’s representative on the four-strong board, Bobby Hunter of the development trust, was voted out, leaving merely voting rights at meetings despite being the third-biggest shareholder. Despite trying different routes and fresh business approaches the company failed to start making money and last month was effectively nationalised by the Faroese government. Since the initial investment Shetland’s shareholding has been diluted from 19.5 per cent to seven per cent.