By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
While the rest of the country seemed to grind to a halt this week with London buses unable to run and schools in unlikely places like Worcestershire closed because of the deepest snow for 18 years, Shetland has escaped the heavy downfalls and disruption.
The worst weather of the week came on Tuesday night, when temperatures dropped below freezing, and on Wednesday, when a cold front moved across Shetland brought biting north-easterly gales and sleety snow.
The wintry conditions that morning caused several cars to go off the road and was the cause of the accident on the A970 when a Renault Scenic overturned on a bend just south of the Fladdabister straights. A man and his four-year-old son were taken to the Gilbert Bain Hospital – their conditions are not thought to be serious.
Flights in and out of Sumburgh were delayed on Wednesday due to snow at mainland airports, and yesterday morning nothing moved as no flights came in or left. Edinburgh passengers were later re-routed on the Glasgow plane.
There was some disruption to flights from Scatsta due to snow on Wednesday, and no fixed wing aircraft got into the airport on Thursday morning.
Some of the worst disruption was felt by ferry passengers when the Hjaltland, which was due into Aberdeen from Lerwick at 7pm on Tuesday, diverted to Rosyth. This decision was taken because Aberdeen harbour was inaccessible due to excessively low water levels caused by a combination of easterly winds and low tides.
NorthLink sent coaches from Aberdeen to Rosyth to meet the vessel, which berthed at around 11am. Passengers who needed to be in Aberdeen were bussed north, in what a NorthLink spokesman said was a “significant exercise”. Continuing uncertainty over water levels at Aberdeen harbour meant that the Hjaltland sailed directly from Rosyth on Tuesday evening for Lerwick.
Passengers heading for Lerwick were asked to check-in in Aberdeen by 6.30pm at the latest, to be taken by coach to Rosyth. Alternatively, passengers could check-in directly at Rosyth. The Hjaltland left Rosyth at around 9pm and arrived in Lerwick at 10.30am on Wednesday, having made up a lot of time.
As well as passengers, the Hjaltland carried 17 commercial trailers, many of which contained high-value and time-critical fresh fish from Shetland.
NorthLink said freight customers were notified of the diversion and were able to send their trucks to Rosyth to collect the trailers and ensure their connections south were met. However fish agents LHD described the diversion as a “nightmare”, with missed connections due to having to get the fish north to the main transport base of Aberdeen presenting a “major headache for fish buyers”.
NorthLink chief executive Bill Davidson described the decision to divert the ferry rather than wait outside the harbour until conditions improved as “the lesser of two evils”.
He said: “The wind direction was creating a significant swell in the Aberdeen harbour entrance channel which meant that the usable water depth was considerably lower than normal and insufficient for almost all shipping.
“Hjaltland could have waited at sea off Aberdeen until the evening high tide to take advantage of any improvement in the swell but the prospects were not good and therefore before 6am we had made the decision to divert to Rosyth to land all passengers, cars and freight as quickly as possible. There were many other vessels caught in the same position at Aberdeen including our Clare which is a bit shallower than Hjaltland.
“In the event Clare did get into Aberdeen but with a falling tide she was then unable to get out again until 4am when the tide was rising once more. The arrival of Hascosay into Aberdeen on Tuesday was also delayed as a result of the swell.
“The entire exercise represented a significant logistical effort with busses being laid on to take passengers to and from Rosyth and our customer service staff contacting our many passengers so they were each able to make informed decisions. I’d like to publicly thank all our staff for the huge effort they put in.”
Meanwhile the ferry Hrossey, en route to Aberdeen, was damaged early last Friday morning in almost exactly the same way as the Hjaltland had been two weeks previously.
The vessel, with 295 passengers on board, left Lerwick at 7pm and sailed into gale force winds and sea conditions which were significantly worse than forecast.
About 4am the fo’c’sle area of the vessel was struck by a series of waves causing some damage to a door leading to a crew accommodation access corridor. There were no injuries to passengers or crew. Hrossey continued south at reduced speed and arrived in Aberdeen at 12.30pm, five and a half hours behind schedule. As it was necesary to carry out repairs on Hrossey, Friday night’s scheduled service to Lerwick was cancelled. The southbound sailing was also cancelled that night due to high winds.
Once repairs on Hrossey were completed, the vessel left Aberdeen on Saturday for her scheduled dry-dock inspection in Denmark.