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.
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.
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.