North Isles ferries running again – but more repairs are needed

Ferries on the Yell Sound route between Toft to Ulsta are running again after five days of disruption caused by the failure of the linkspan.

Engineers worked all weekend to get the problem fixed, and eventually the service was back in business around 5pm last night. The service is now operating on its normal timetable with the ferry Dagalien and the relief ferry Fivla, which is being used while the Daggri is on refit in Lerwick.

Passengers travelling to and from the North Isles endured five days of uncertainty when the 15 minute run across Yell Sound was replaced with a hour-long journey between Ulsta and Vidlin. Three of the council’s smaller ferries had been operating a vehicle shuttle service on which no booking was possible. However priority was given to perishable loads, such as salmon, whitefish and mussels, and people with hospital appointments. There was also a foot passenger service from Toft.

SIC head of transport Michael Craigie said: “Work was done to get the service back as fast as possible. It’s a relief to get back to normality. The ferries are operating reliably and safely.”

He stressed, however, that although a repair had been carried out to get the service running again, a permanent repair on the hydraulic rams will still have to be carried out. This will be done at night outwith operating hours if possible, although it may become necessary to cancel some of the very latest runs. Mr Craigie said: “We know exactly what the problem is. We won’t disrupt services unless absolutely essential.”

The permanent repairs could take a couple of weeks because the equipment and spares would have to come from south, he said. Meanwhile he thanked the travelling public who had suffered the greatest impact of the disruption. “We are very appreciative of their patience.”

The major failure of the linkspan was caused by a combination of a very low tide and the smaller ferry Fivla lying lower in the water than the superferries which normally operate on the route.

This caused the linkspan plate to be at too steep an angle – it came off its hinges while lowering and the restraining chains which were meant to stop it parted. Ferry services manager Ken Duerden said: “It was a particular set of circumstances.” Modifications at both Toft and Ulsta have now been made in the form of bigger chains and packing pieces to make sure this cannot happen again.

The disruption has had a significant effect on business. Steven Henderson of R S Henderson Haulage Contractors, based in Yell, said the company had lost “quite a lot” of business, although he could not put a figure on it.

“It’s mainly internal business in Shetland we’ve lost, not being able to be at the right place at the right time”. He was “very pleased” the ferries were operating the vehicle service from Toft again, he said, although it would not be quite back to normal until the second “big ferry” was back.


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