A new operator has won the contract to run the Foula ferry service at a much reduced price. Tingwall-based BK Marine will take over the slimmed-down contract from Whiteness-based Atlantic Ferries on 1st August for four years.
BK Marine is run by Gordon and Marjorie Williamson who have Herrislea House Hotel, and fellow director Ewan Anderson from Whalsay, who is a boat skipper.
The company has been operating marine contracts in the UK and abroad for about five years and Mr Williamson ran a busy sea taxi service to the eastern European klondyker ships off Lerwick in the 1980s and 1990s.
A meeting is due to take place in Foula tomorrow at which Shetland Islands Council transport manager Michael Craigie and Mr Williamson will talk to islanders about the change of service. Mr Craigie said: “For them it will be the same level of service and the same operation.”
The council ferry New Advance and her Foula-based crew will transfer to the new operator. They make the crossing from Foula three times a week in summer and twice in winter, taking over two hours in exposed waters.
There were just three bids for the contract, all local. An in-house council bid did not materialise.
Mr Williamson said there were still contract details to be worked through with the council but he hoped the changeover from Atlantic Ferries would be “seamless”. He said he was keen to get the contract. “I’m looking forward to it. Running boats is what we do.”
Earlier this year the council said it hoped to shave £115,000 off the £500,000 cost of the contract, largely by cutting down on the local authority’s own cumbersome administration and internal charging system for the Foula service. The saving was to be made without affecting the service while reducing waste and efficiency behind the scenes. Mr Craigie confirmed that the saving would actually be “significantly bigger” than originally hoped for, although the contract figure is not yet publicly available.
Atlantic Ferries, run by the Grains brothers, had operated the service since November 2006 after the council put it out to tender. Atlantic received great praise from the 30-strong community for the standard of its service.
Community councillor Jim Gear said on Wednesday the islanders had not yet heard any details about the new operation. “The whole service with Atlantic Ferries has been very satisfactory. The island as a whole has been extremely satisfied with them. We can but hope that [BK Marine] can provide a service that is of equal quality.”
Fellow islander Marion Taylor said Atlantic had gone out of its way to ensure the community got its supplies. “We will be sad to see them go because they’ve been absolutely brilliant,” she said.
BK Marine currently has a fleet of two boats, the former Papa Stour ferry Koada and the work barge Bagheera, both currently in Orkney. Mr Williamson said his company had been involved in marine contracts as far afield as Norway and the south of England, including work on fish farms and an offshore wind farm.
He has a long track record of marine contracts around Shetland, beginning with the Viking Sea Taxis business, built around the old fishing boat Zenobia which carried people and supplies out to the klondyker fleet.
The Zenobia was also involved in the building of the new Foula school, ferrying all the materials to the island.