Council in talks with insurers over £100,000 cost of ferry ramp repairs

The failure of a linkspan for ferries berthing at Toft in April cost around £100,000 to repair and the council is currently in discussion with insurers about whether it can claw back some of the expense.

Superintendent engineer Winston Brown explained the technicalities of how repairs were carried out during today’s inter-island ferries board meeting, during which ferry services manager Ken Duerden confirmed the SIC was talking to its insurers. He was unable to elaborate further at this stage after being asked by councillor Rick Nickerson whether any compensation would be available.

Mr Nickerson praised the ferries department for its “ingenuity” in managing to get the ferry service up and running fully within five days after fears locally that it could take as long as a fortnight. Engineers worked over the weekend after the linkspan failed on 28th April to find a solution. Josie Simpson agreed that they had done a “very good job in difficult circumstances”.

For five days until 3rd May, ferry users with vehicles saw their 15-minute run across Yell Sound replaced with hour-long journeys between Ulsta and Vidlin. Three of the council’s smaller ferries provided a shuttle service for foot passengers.

Referring to the thorny subject of his native Whalsay and the ongoing tunnel/ferries debate, Mr Simpson said the linkspan failure had “highlighted what can happen”. “If this was happening in Whalsay we’d be cut off entirely. The weather was on your side in this case. We have to do everything we can with the terminal replacement programme.”

Work on hydraulic rams is to be carried out on the night of Saturday 12th June and it is hoped the work can be completed without disrupting the service the following day.

Mr Duerden also flagged up the possibility that “major refurbishing work” may have to be carried out on the <i>Bigga</i> ferry, which runs on the Bluemull Sound route between Yell and Unst, with board chairman Robert Henderson pointing out there had been “too many small breakdowns with her”. That could entail significant additional cost to the council and is to be the subject of a future report.

Meanwhile, meeting the cost of the single status pay agreement, dry docking and carrying out repairs meant the council’s ferry department overshot its budget by almost half a million pounds last year.

According to provisional figures in a report before the board, the total spend on ferries in 2009/10 was just over £10.2 million against a budgeted figure of just under £9.8 million – an overspend of £470,705.

The biggest overspends were on the service to and from Whalsay, at £212,000, and Yell, at £407,000. In each case, more than £100,000 extra was incurred to meet the terms and conditions of single status.

There was also a bill for £215,000 to put one of the ferries on the Yell service into dry dock. Repairs to the Linga, which operates on the Symbister route, cost £97,000 but is the subject of an insurance claim. That is also the case with emergency repairs to the linkspan at Symbister “to reduce likelihood of structural failure”, which cost £211,000.

Additional overtime of £37,000 was spent on the Bressay service, while services to Fetlar, Papa Stour, Skerries and Fair Isle were all subject to budget underspending totalling almost £200,000.

Councillor Rick Nickerson suggested that items like dry docking ought to be included in budgets “to make sure we know it’s accounted for”. “These are one-off expenditures that have to be planned for,” he said. “It just looks bad.”


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