Shetland MSP Tavish Scott is calling on the Scottish government to take a leaf out of NorthLink’s book when it comes to cutting running costs at the lifeline ferry operator.
Mr Scott said transport minister Stewart Stevenson should examine some of the more constructive proposals to save £1 million being put forward by NorthLink itself rather than push ahead with “damaging” options which will impact on fares and quality of service.
Chief among the plans reportedly being examined by NorthLink is an option to buy a Danish vessel which has a larger freight capacity than the Hildasay but can also take up to 400 passengers on board.
It is being said the Dueodde could take over the timetable of one of the passenger ferries during the quiet parts of the winter season and would also have the benefit of providing much more flexibility during the refit period.
The claims were made in the Summer 2010 edition of the Ferry & Cruise Review publication, which included a feature on NorthLink.
Mr Scott said he would raise the option at next week’s meeting of the Scottish ferries review, which will be held in Lerwick on Monday. He is also seeking a meeting with Mr Stevenson to put his case directly to him.
“The government has only offered options which would either increase fares or reduce the quality of the service we get, with longer journey times or fewer crossings,” Mr Scott said.
“All these options would be damaging to Shetland’s interests, hitting island residents and businesses. The government seems to forget that this is our one and only passenger, vehicle and ro-ro freight service, we only have one sailing each way each day.
“Unlike other large island groups, we do not have a choice of routes. The service is a vital part of Shetland life and cannot just be cut in the way the government seems to think is acceptable.
“Fortunately, if media reports are correct, NorthLink is looking at the issue in a much more constructive way. It is reported that one of the vessels being considered as the replacement to their freight ferry, the Clare, is a Danish RoPax ferry, the Dueodde. This vessel has a slightly larger freight capacity than the Hildasay, but can take 400 passengers with berths for just over 100. It even makes the option of re-introducing some services to Norway much more realistic.
“This is the sort of option which the government should be investigating rather than going for the easy option of taking an axe to our lifeline service.”