Shetland Islands Council may be asked for a cash contribution towards chartering the CalMac ferry Hebridean Isles for the Pentland Firth route for part of the first three months of next year.
It would avoid the Shetland-Aberdeen service being reduced to a single passenger ship service during NorthLink’s nine-week drydocking period.
Representatives of the seafood and freight industries have been lobbying the government agency Transport Scotland to take action to ensure its exports are not hit by the loss of the scheduled daily sailings of the Hjaltland and the Hrossey from 23rd January to 26th March.
Following a meeting last week the agency suggested bringing in the Hebridean Isles to Orkney to allow the Hamnavoe to switch to the Shetland route when it returns from drydock. That would mean not having to lose the Hjaltland to cover the Pentland Firth.
But there has been anger in Orkney about the plan with claims that Shetland was essentially going behind its back and “waving its cheque book” to pay for the Hebridean Isles in order to poach the Hamnavoe. Orcadians are no fans of the small and elderly Hebridean Isles after experiencing her on the Pentland Firth before the brand-new Hamnavoe joined NorthLink’s fleet.
The chairman of the local transport agency ZetTrans, Allan Wishart, moved to correct the perceived slight on Shetland’s neighbours. He said on Wednesday the idea had come from Transport Scotland and had not yet emerged as a proposal to be put before councillors for consideration.
Use of the Hebridean Isles was suggested before by NorthLink but rejected by Orkney Islands Council and ruled out by the government in October due to the cost.
The idea that Shetland might provide a contribution to the estimated £250,000 for hiring the Hebridean Isles would set a precedent, Mr Wishart said. That would have to be weighed against the importance of ensuring that Shetland’s industries had a reliable way of getting their product out.