Shipping director raises concerns over NorthLink freight service

A warning has been issued that NorthLink’s vessels have insufficient space to cater for an anticipated growth in freight demand.

The local external transport forum has heard freight services on the Serco-run ferries are already hitting capacity at times.

However Serco’s managing director Stuart Garrett has defended the company’s record on freight and insists the ferry operator is well-placed to carry goods to and from the isles.

The Helliar freight ferry. Photo: Dave Donaldson
The Helliar freight ferry. Photo: Dave Donaldson

His defence came after development director of Streamline Shipping Group, Gareth Crichton, warned Shetland Line’s contract for the load-on load-off (lo-lo) container service may not be renewed when it ends in May.

Mr Crichton told today’s meeting the Scottish government had sent “mixed messages” as to whether any arrangement will be in place thereafter for lo-lo services.

His comments, made following a tense exchange with Mr Garrett, came a week after it was revealed Streamline is seeking hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages from the Scottish government over its failed bid to operate the North Boats contract.

Mr Crichton said: “I’ve raised this before and I’ll raise it again. On a large number of occasions we’ve not got the spaces we sought. It’s about whether we can get the kit on the boats or not.”

He said the construction industry running and oil and gas sectors were reliant on the freight ferry service.

“There’s an awful lot running on your supply chain right now,” Mr Crichton told the Serco chief.

However Mr Garrett insisted the service had capacity to deal with freight shipping demands in and out of Shetland.

He pointed to figures which showed an increase in car-deck utilisation for freight from 40 per cent to 49 per cent.

He added Serco could use its second freighter at any time if required.

And he said Serco had been able to build an accurate picture of how the market worked.

Stuart Garrett, Serco NorthLink's managing director.Mr Garrett also responded to yesterday’s launch by the SIC and ZetTrans of an online survey for community groups, such as sports and social clubs, seeking feedback on the cost of travel and accommodation choices.

The survey was launched following claims groups had to pay more to travel south. Mr Garrett agreed to take any feedback on board.

“I welcome the opportunity for the feedback. I think it’s good that the SIC and ZetTrans have taken the initiative and look forward in due course to discussing and perhaps having an opportunity to analyse the responses.”

He also pledged to take on concerns surrounding the islander discount available to people living in the isles. The meeting heard people often felt embarrassed to be asked while queueing on the boat if they were islanders in order to qualify for the discount, when the person behind them may not have been.

More in this week’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • paul barlow

    • June 25th, 2013 22:17

    just heard that shipping a shetland pony south is costing 9 pounds more than last year. thats a big jump.

  • Brian Johnston

    • June 26th, 2013 10:36

    Am I missing something here?

    There was always going to be a huge spike in the quantity of freight coming into Shetland with the construction of the new gas plant at Sullom. I assume to complete the build they require masses of materials, equipment, vehicles, hard hats, steel toe-capped boots, right down to every-day consumables.

    Add to that a service industry that has somewhere in the region of an extra couple of thousand mouths to feed and, shockarooney, we might need more freight capacity.

    Is it beyond the wit of man to see this as a straightforward business opportunity? Either Serco Northlink, or some other shipping company could surely just run another freight ship to and from Shetland for a while or even turn one around quicker. No?

    I might also hazard a guess that this spike might become more of high plateau and not at all short term. A new power station to be built, which will require 400 men or women we are told, a new school to be built, possible gas pipelines to construct to Lerwick from Sullom for said power plant and who knows, did someone mention windmills?

  • Jerry McIver

    • June 26th, 2013 19:26

    Isn’t Streamline shipping most of the materials for SGP. If the daroja is full and they still need the lolo subsidy to make it viable then their costs must be out of control or they have underbid the job with pricing too low. Not a clever business decision. Get a bigger boat if you can’t get it all on, you’re a shipping line aren’t you? Looks like a golden opportunity to make bumper profits. Prices go up when demand exceeds supply. Basic rule of economics.

  • Tony Erwood

    • June 27th, 2013 8:07

    A significant increase in the use of car space for carrying freight must mean that it is more likely people will be told that there is no space for their car, unless they book a long way ahead which often isn’t possible.

  • John Tulloch

    • June 27th, 2013 8:48

    I think there’ll be a lot fewer cars anyway as the price has gone up dramatically – we certainly won’t be bringing ours any more.

    Three hearty cheers for Serco, presumably,from local car hire firms who will have doubtless adjusted their prices upwards in response?

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 27th, 2013 10:25

    You might as well fly then, if you dont need a car. It is cheaper, without the car and just about the same price with it

  • Jerry McIver

    • June 27th, 2013 11:48

    Aren’t Northlink meant to be supporting local businesses, including car hire ones. If they get more business that why’s that a bad thing?

  • John Tulloch

    • June 27th, 2013 12:48

    We may well end up flying however in the past “Da Bo-At” has been so much more pleasant an experience than being herded through airports which latter fails to bring out the best of my (very) good nature.

  • Matt Charles

    • July 12th, 2013 22:17

    Interesting comments by Keith Vaz about Serco and how they have made money from government contracts. Bet Keith Brown is glad he awarded them the contract now!


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