A complaint has been made about the suitability of the Shetland cargo vessey Helliar, which is currently standing in on the Pentland Firth route while the Hamnavoe is being refitted.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur on Thursday brought the matter to the attention of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, after disabled passenger Terri-Jane White was unable to travel due to lack of accessibility.
Mr McArthur called on Ms Sturgeon to apologise to those affected by what he termed “the inadequate cover” provided on the Stromness-Scrabster route during the refit period.
He asked the First Minister to “explain what steps her government took to ensure a more appropriate replacement vessel was identified”. He drew her attention to the specific case of Ms White, a young wheelchair user and UHI student rep.
Ms Sturgeon said it was “deeply regrettable that any person, particularly somebody with a disability, didn’t have the standard on a transport system that they would expect”.
The First Minister also confirmed she would ask transport minister Humza Yousaf to address the issues with Serco NorthLink and communicate directly with Mr McArthur.
After the exchange Mr McArthur said: “Planned maintenance is an essential part of making sure that our lifeline ferry services run smoothly. However, it isn’t acceptable that a freight vessel was brought in to operate the Stromness-Scrabster route.
“A number of constituents have been in touch with me about the problems they have faced over recent weeks. Perhaps the most striking has be the case of Terri-Jane White, a UHI student rep with fibromyalgia who was unable to travel due to the lack of wheelchair accessibility on the Helliar. She, quite rightly, asks how a replacement ferry in 2018 is not accessible for wheelchair users.
“While it will be little comfort to passengers who have been affected over recent weeks, the First Minister has at least made clear in Parliament today that is isn’t acceptable that anyone, particularly those with a disability, should not have access to a decent standard of travel.
“She has instructed the transport minister to raise these issues with NorthLink but it is clear that the minister must do more to identify and help secure a more suitable replacement vessel in future.
“This is not the first time a freight vessel has been used in these circumstances. It must, though, be the last.”