NorthLink’s drydocking season will last a full two months next year, as its three passenger ferries are now 10 years old and the overhauling work will take longer than before.
Shetland will be served by just the one passenger ship during that time as the Hjaltland will also be taken off the route to cover for the Pentland Firth ferry Hamnavoe. The suggestion of using a Calmac vessel on the Scrabster to Stromness route has been refused by the Scottish government.
The work will cover two months from 23rd January until 26th March with the Hjaltland, Hrossey and Hamnavoe each spending three weeks undergoing essential maintenance and inspection. The identity of the shipyard is not yet known as the work is currently out to tender.
The Hamnavoe will be taken out of service for the first three weeks, followed by the Hjaltland from 14th February to 5th March and finally the Hrossey from 6th March.
NorthLink managing director Bill Davidson said: “We have liaised closely with stakeholders on both islands and had provided them with provisional dates and details of possible sailing arrangements to cover the period. Both islands councils – for different reasons – had expressed concerns about the alternative arrangements which might be put in place to cover this year’s extended dry-dock period.
“We had discussed with Scottish government the possibility of chartering the Hebridean Isles from our sister company CalMac Ferries Ltd, to cover for the Hamnavoe. Scottish government officials looked very closely at this option but decided that, for budgetary reasons, the Hebridean Isles would not be used for Scrabster-Stromness cover.
“We appreciate that the dry-dock season invariably leads to inconvenience to customers and that the period of inconvenience will be much longer this year due to the more extensive work being done. We’ve sought to minimize the time and we apologise for the inconvenience to our customers which will inevitably arise.”
For the duration of the period when the Aberdeen route is operating with a single vessel the passenger service will run northbound on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The southbound service will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and there will be no service in either direction on Saturdays.
Mr Davidson said that was the timetable the firm had operated in previous years as it preserved the vessel heading in the optimum direction on the busiest nights of the week.
He added: “In order to keep essential freight flowing during the overhaul period, our freight vessels Hildasay and Helliar will operate to slightly modified timetables.
This will also mean that, on days when there isn’t a passenger vessel operating, there will be a freight vessel sailing each of which has capacity for up to 12 passengers. These services have proven to be a popular option in the past.”
Full details of the dry-dock schedules and timetables can be found on the NorthLink Ferries website at www.northlinkferries.co.uk