Poor show by NorthLink (Vic Thomas)

I have been living in Shetland long enough to remember 23 years of lifeline ferry service from P&O and the last 15 years from NorthLink.

In all these years the winter weather is on and off much the same with the odd extreme period, so why year on year is the NorthLink service getting so progressively unreliable?

This weekend is not an extreme weather event in Shetland or Aberdeen waters but all the boats are tied up or delayed on the busiest weekend of the year.

I know some of this is down to unnecessary and counter productive levels of health and safety that now make many things in life almost impossible to do.

I also know, from acquaintances who know about ships, that the vessels on the Northern Isles routes are not suited to the conditions or Aberdeen Harbour. But these factors alone do not explain why NorthLink gives up at the slightest bit of wind and lumpy sea, with the excuses from the boardroom more akin to operations on a sunny day in the Mediterranean.

So can anyone explain why one year in the NorthLink calendar gives us a lifeline service with more delays and cancelations than in several years put together of the former P&O service?

Are the ships so useless? Is NorthLink so scared of being sued if someone falls over on a rough passage? Does NorthLink save money by not sailing?

Whatever the reasons, it’s imperative come the next contract, that the local communities of both Orkney and Shetland have a say in what service we need and not the rigged sham that saw NorthLink and then Serco take over.

Vic Thomas


Add Your Comment
  • Ali Inkster

    • December 20th, 2014 19:53

    Du can expect nae idder fae hollyrood Vic.

  • thomas leask

    • December 21st, 2014 8:05

    I absolutely 100% completely agree with you vic, northlink are a complete sham! I remember the st suniva coming into harbour with the wheelhouse windows smashed in by a lump of water coming aboard….they would sail in anything to the degree ive heard tails of people lifting in the air off there bunks aboard during a sailing to aberdeen….the isles need rid of these Caribbean cruisers and need a vessel without a flat bottom.

  • Julie Ritson

    • December 21st, 2014 17:25

    you know you make me laugh, do you think the people on board had a joyous journey being thrown in the air off their bunk, what’s wrong with you moaners if they sailed and disaster struck they would be the ones that would get oh they should never have sailed, don’t you think that people’s safety and comfort is more important than putting people’s life’s in danger all that’s bothering most off you is the lack off provisions in the supermarket but let’s face it most of you could do without food for a month it would do you the world off good. Obeasity is on the rise in Shetland. What about the time one off the older boats went aground on Mousa I notice none off you mention that. What about the time the boat was coming from Aberdeen and there was a lot off school kids coming back from a school trip, there was a big yahoo about the boat should never have sailed as they were walking on the walls. Let’s face you can’t please everyone. I for one would rather the boat didn’t sail in bad weather than put my life in danger.

    • Ali Inkster

      • December 22nd, 2014 15:21

      Julie when you arrive at the pier on a night o dirt nobody puts a gun to your head and forces you to board. You can like anyone else decide that you are not willing to travel and northlink will rebook you on the next sailing free of charge, you may also consider using the plane in the winter months if a rough nights passage is not to your liking. But those of us with businesses to run that rely on a reliable service feel that force 6 to 7 winds are not a reasonable excuse not to sail, what is even more galling is that the wind was westerly and the vast majority of the journey would of been in the lea of the land.
      Now as to your overly dramatic mention of the wreck of the St Sunniva in 1930 I will remind you it was in 1930 and the cause of the wreck was thick fog not high winds, so hardly relevant. And for for school kids flying through the air, personally speaking if you managed to get good air while running along the corridors of the boat on a rough night that was the highlight of the holiday.
      So lets be clear These ferries are not some pleasure cruise but a life line freight and passenger service working in the northern north sea and as such ship and crew should be prepared to sail in rough weather if not then I seriously think we need to replace both without further delay.

      • Julie Ritson

        • January 1st, 2015 22:50

        Ali Inkster why would I want to pay a plane fare when I get two trips a year free who do you think you are telling me what I can and can’t do some people have more worries other than if Northlink Ferries is going to sail or not. There’s a plane lying at the bottom of the sea with 162 odd passengers on board.

      • Ali Inkster

        • January 2nd, 2015 14:58

        You get free passage and still you want the ferry to sit at the pier for your comfort, If you don’t like sailing on a rough night take your free trips in the summer months. But don’t dictate to someone who has spent the better part of his life in working offshore in all weathers that the boats should not do the job they are supposed to. Don’t dictate to the industry that allows us to survive here in Shetland that millions of pounds of fish should sit on the pier for your comfort. Especially when those far smaller boats are at sea fishing when the ferries are tied up. If the ferries fail to be reliable and we can’t export fish from the market, how do you propose we persuade boats to land here? How do you propose we get the boats that currently land here to continue to do so?

    • Shuard Manson

      • December 23rd, 2014 1:34

      The obesity crisis is a problem.
      The spelling and punctuation crisis is a worry too…..

      • Shuard Manson

        • December 23rd, 2014 1:40

        Excuse my spelling and punctuation.

    • Ali Inkster

      • January 2nd, 2015 16:25

      Another thought Julie if you dislike air and sea travel so much is living on an island really the best idea you ever had?

  • Alex Goodlad

    • December 22nd, 2014 11:28

    Interesting switch in topics there. From a bad ferry journey to obeasity (obesity) in Shetland. A sweeping generalisation that we are all fat…… How rude!

    Bring back P&O boats. Always sailed and travel was at the discretion of the passenger. No problem with a shortage of cabins either. And big brother was not analysing your every move. Lets face it our lifeline service has been traded for the comfort of tourists.

  • Charlie Gallagher

    • December 22nd, 2014 17:34

    Perhaps that renowned Naval Architect, Thomas Leask would draw-up some plans for a Ro-Ro without a flat bottom and able to work in the present confines of the existing Aberdeen Harbour? It might also be worth noting that both the Sunny and the Clair had some very hairy and scary runs. In fact the Clair rolled so far that they had to weld on saddle flotation tanks on either side just above the waterline. Or there was the crossing again I believe on the Clair when several fully loaded semi-trailers broke their retaining chains and crushed quite a few cars. I also recall the outrage that ensued in the columns of The Shetland Times decrying P&O for running such terrible ferries. Yes I’m afraid that there are some people who only see P&O through ‘rose tinted specs’, they’ll be the same people that only ever remember summers when the sun shone from school break-up until the start of the autumn term.

    Finally let’s never forget that the final decision on whether or not to sail is down to the Captain for if anything goes wrong he is the one who ultimately carries the can.

    Have a Very Happy Christmas. Enjoy your sprouts, LOL.

  • Vic Thomas.

    • December 22nd, 2014 18:26

    Julie Ritson has no idea what she is talking about & is obviously part of the new society of “wrap yourself up in cotton wool and avoid all risks” A totally pathetic attitude to life that is screwing up everything folk try to do.

    Firstly its not about festive food as I don’t take part in the greedy & wasteful xmas debacle – its about the gradual strangulation of life, the rules and safety regulations now making almost everything too expensive or risky.

    If you are happy with the heavily subsidized ferry service that sits tied up because your uncomfortable on a trip sooth or nort – your not expressing the views of many Islanders who see the ferry as a maritime bus service that sails just when the boss likes it.

  • Bill Adams

    • December 22nd, 2014 19:15

    Serious questions need to be asked about the suitability of the present vessels for operating in the North
    Sea in winter. They would be fine for summer cruises in the Baltic, but the North Sea at this time of year is
    a different matter.


    • December 23rd, 2014 1:49

    from my point of view they do a damn good job on the task they are asked to do in the harsh and unforgiving North sea!
    The person who decides if they sail or not is the Ships master not the company and if he says its not safe to sail then why would it be worth taking the risk.

  • Ali Inkster

    • December 23rd, 2014 17:57

    If a master decides not to sail in force 6 to 7 winds with the lea of the land for “safety reasons” then either the boats are unsafe and the master knows it, or the boats are safe and the master is unsuited to the environment.

    • Sandy McDonald

      • January 3rd, 2015 9:07

      Speaking as a skipper Ali, and knowing how experienced the guys on the ferries are I can tell you the Masters are more than suited to the environment. The “new” boats are not as good sea-boats as the old P&O vessels (and thats saying something). They will have had enough hairy moments to be able to gauge when they can sail without arriving at the other side with a boat full of broken passengers. The boat might be fine but the two-legged cargo wouldn’t. Also I get the distinct impression that folk aren’t as hardy as they were 20 years ago, but that could just be me becoming a grumpy old git…

      • Ali Inkster

        • January 3rd, 2015 13:06

        You know that the boats are not suitable I know it, when I wonder will those responsible for them admit it.

  • David Spence

    • December 23rd, 2014 20:29

    The lifeline boat used to be good until Serco took over (under very dubious arrangement lets say (as in they have no experience in this industry at all)) and changed the priority of providing an essential service for the islands and the people of the Orkney and Shetland Islands into that of ‘ look after number 1, provide a service at the minimum cost to ourselves (please do not hark on about the £1 million refit they did (mainly to justify increasing prices, forcing people to take cabins because long seating is now fitted with barriers, stopping the service at the slightest gust of wind (although Serco have been paid, running the business at the minimum cost to themselves gives them a larger profit margin) charging over the odds for meals, especially breakfast, charging for entering a premises in which to eat)) but the maximum to the islanders and tourists alike. Putting profit ahead (the provision of alcohol) of the well being of the passengers, and then doing very little to diffuse any disruptive behaviour as a consequence of being served too much alcohol.

    Put short, Serco puts profits ahead of anything else regardless to the inconvenience to the islands or the people of the islands.

  • David Spence

    • December 24th, 2014 0:27

    It seems rather inappropriate to be painting a viking point North (I presume?) on the boat to indicate the Scandinavian connection with the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

    I am pretty sure the Viking’s did not make the decision not to sail because there was a slight gust of wind blowing around. I am also pretty sure the Vikings were a lot more knowledgeable about the environment, weather and sea conditions. Something modern humans have very much lost.

    Based on previous attempts to emulate the Viking’s and how they managed to sail the sea’s (the Viking Longship up in Unst being an example of a failed attempt to sail from Sweden to Canada) and managed to survive and complete the journey. God forbid if the Health and Safety lobby were around then , the Vikings would still be stuck on Norway, Sweden or Denmark waiting for the risk assessment, environmental, weather, costing and whether or not it was worthy……..reports. lol

    Any way, my point being

  • Jim Richman

    • December 24th, 2014 7:47

    My wife & I have travelled by Northlink once before SERCO & once after SERCO took over. What is happening is no supprise to me as in Australia SERCO runs various facilities & their record is rather wanting. Get use to it because I can’t see it getting any better while it is run by SERCO. Need to get rid of them & have someone who knows what they are doing run it.

  • ian tinkler

    • January 2nd, 2015 22:30

    I have read some crap in my time but this idiocy about Northlink nearly takes the biscuit. Of course we can design ships that can sail in all weathers. Strap the passengers down, seal the stairwells, close all watertight doors and tie down the hatches and steam into hurricane. I would love that, vomit everywhere, a few concussions from head butting bulkheads, the odd fatality down a stairwell. Now let’s get real, we can build gin palace ferries for tourists or sea boats. It is our choice Shetlander’s, grow up and stop whinging. Gin palaces or sea boats? We could do both, but it would cost an awful lot, sadly there is no compromise. Could always go South I suppose.


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.