Moves are afoot to bring the Scandinavian cruise ship Norröna back to Shetland following a meeting in London between SIC Convenor Malcolm Bell and Faroese Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen.
According to Mr Bell, the Faroese leader will try to broker a meeting between the council and the board of Smyril Line, the operators of Norröna.
Mr Bell emphasised that Norröna, in which the SIC has a stake via its £4.5 million Smyril Line investment, will not be visiting Shetland this year nor, most likely, next either. And if the council and the ferry company cannot drum up a beneficial use for the council’s investment, the SIC will consider what should be done with its Norröna shareholding.
He said: “If we can get some sort of a link back it might make it [the investment] worthwhile holding and if not, we need to examine what to do with it. We do need to go there and hear what they’re saying.”
Mr Bell said that a range of topics would be on the table when a council delegation visits Faroe later in the summer. These would include subsea tunnels, broadband links and air travel as well as the maritime link.
Mr Johannesen, in London to celebrate Faroese independence day, had expressed regret that the Smyril Line had to pull out of Shetland when it did. Despite the Faroe government being a shareholder in Smyril, he could not direct the company what to do.
Lerwick Port Authority chief executive Sandra Laurenson told a meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday that the chances of Norröna coming back to Shetland were slim.
Smyril had decided to drop the Lerwick to Bergen stage of its complicated North Sea route because of commercial reasons; and these still held good. Norröna had been a big customer for the port authority with up to five visits per week in its 2003 heyday.
Community councillor Andy Carter had said that “everyone regretted the demise of the Norröna,” and asked what the prospect of her return was.
Ms Laurenson told councillors: “Smyril focus on Denmark, Faroe and Iceland – that’s where they make their income. They do not come to the UK and Norway.” The biggest demand for the ferry was from German tourists who visited Iceland from Denmark, with the ferry visiting Denmark twice a week.
It was not “too big an ask for them to come in here”, she added, but there had not been any significant earnings on the Denmark to Shetland route, though more passengers had travelled from Lerwick to Bergen. “I cannot see how they will be bringing in the UK and Norway if it is not profitable,” she added.
The service, the community council heard, had actually been better used when the much smaller Smyril had been in service, but that was because sailings were concentrated in the summer rather than spread all year round. It was also noted that the numbers travelling by air from Sumburgh to Bergen had reduced when sailing on the Norröna had been an option.