Serco NorthLink is investigating a recent incident following claims about the behaviour of “oil workers”, which saw ferry passengers abused and intimidated by “drunken louts”.
The incident, the latest in several The Shetland Times has been made aware of, happened on a crowded southbound ferry last Wednesday.
Accounts of the most recent episode have been posted on social media sites prompting the NorthLink investigation.
One passenger who was heading south to play a concert in Tobermory was professional musician Kris Drever. He said he put up his yarn on Facebook to alert people to the kind of ugly scene that has become increasingly commonplace, with gas plant workers being fingered as the main culprits.
Much of Mr Drever’s account is too crude to be repeated in these pages. But he tells of how one lout crossed the divide from drunken banter to abusing and sexually harassing a number of passengers.
According to Mr Drever the man crudely propositioned one young woman who had innocently spoken to him before harassing a couple of Italian men, suggesting what he had done to their mothers.
He then targeted an elderly Orkney couple who he got to stick their fingers in his navel, before simulating sex with a table, all the while shouting obscenities.
Eventually, after many of his hapless victims had left the bar in disgust, the man fell out with others in his group who had to be kept away from him by bar staff for the sake of his own safety.
The bar staff kept selling both parties drink after the incident, Mr Drever said.
Mr Drever added later that he did not want to have a go at the NorthLink staff who had a difficult job to do, especially when there were large numbers of drunken men on the boat who were determined to keep on drinking.
“I would like to take a balanced view and not just throw pelters at NorthLink,” he said. “The thing was these guys should not have been getting served. It is a tough job for the guys behind the bar.”
Crew were in a difficult position if they barred people from drinking, when they might end up stuck with large numbers of disgruntled drinkers roaming the boat.
“I can see why they might go for the quiet life and continue serving them,” Mr Drever said.
He said that if anything, much of the blame fell on the yob’s colleagues who had turned a blind eye to his misbehaviour until he ended up offending them.
Mr Drever’s night got worse when he went to his recliner to find it occupied. Deciding the deck
was his best option, he attempted to sleep between the seats, only to be kept awake by a nearby couple copulating.
Mr Drever’s Facebook story had attracted 141 comments, a great many agreeing or sharing similar experiences, and had been shared 36 times by yesterday.
He stated at the end of his account that he was thinking of starting a public collection of such incidents. According to the Facebook responses, single women, in particular, often avoid the bar area to avoid harassment.
Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett stated later: “We operate a zero tolerance policy to drugs and alcohol and work closely with the police at all ports to ensure our expectation of passenger behaviour is met.
“Passengers appearing under the influence of drugs or alcohol at check-in will not be allowed to board the vessel.
“Furthermore, we encourage our staff to refuse to sell alcohol to any passenger whose behaviour may cause offence to others or who may be deemed to be putting themselves, staff or fellow passengers at risk.
“We continue to provide an effective on board security presence and have no hesitation facilitating custody arrangements for those whose behaviour falls below a public decency standard.”
When asked by The Shetland Times to explain how “zero tolerance” operated when alcohol is sold on ferries, including sometimes to apparently drunk passengers, the company stated: “All staff are fully trained and briefed to national standards when it comes to the sale of alcohol onboard.”
Mr Drever said that he had been contacted by NorthLink after publishing his Facebook story and the company had been “very helpful”. They were in the process of reviewing CCTV footage of the night in question and would refer anything that could be construed as a criminal act to the police.
Mr Drever was told any footage or photographs of offenders would be submitted to the petrochemical companies working in Shetland. This had been done in the past, he was told, resulting in dismissal.
However, Serco NorthLink and Grampian Police both denied an earlier complaint received by The Shetland Times about rowdy behaviour on the ferry which was alleged to have resulted in arrests when it docked in Aberdeen.
Lerwick-based Brazilian anthropologist Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes, who was on the ferry the same night as Mr Drever, had been in the bar watching his country’s World Cup match.
He said his enjoyment was cut short by four yobs who started jeering him as he celebrated Brazil’s goals in his native Portuguese.
Mr Ferrari Nunes said he put up with being imitated and laughed at throughout the match and his attempts to reason with the men fell flat – he even offered to translate for them.
He said in his post: “I have to wonder – should I take it as racism, ignorance, stupidity or just envy because England has been eliminated … or perhaps a mix of all that? Staff on the boat later [told] me that these types are always causing trouble.
“Staff express their concern that people like that have money to spend here and are spoiling other’s experiences. Having money to spend apparently means they can get away with being racist ignoramuses.”
Mr Ferrari Nunes said he had watched football matches in many foreign places throughout the world but had never experienced that kind of drunken hostility.
After the incident he said that bar staff had been sympathetic and expressed their disgust with the drunks, who had attempted to buy alcohol long after closing time, even attempting to bribe the staff.
Mr Nunes said the same behaviour now often spoiled the enjoyment of local people and musicians at nights out in Lerwick.
He pointed out that NorthLink was a lifeline ferry service for islanders as well as the main link for tourists and should not be used as a commuter service for oil workers.
A Petrofac press spokesman was asked if there was evidence that employees had been involved in the incident. He pointed out that the offenders being associated in the public mind with the gas plant did not amount to proof.