A fourth ferry company is throwing its hat in the ring to run the Northern Isles ferry contract.
But in a development which closely mirrors the UK’s Brexit negotiations, recently created seafaring consortium TSTF (AF) has no ships.
Scottish government-owned Calmac has already confirmed it is in the running for the new contract, which is due to begin this year, as well as incumbent operator Serco and German shipping firm FRS Group.
Now, it is believed a late entry has controversially been accepted by government ministers from TSTF representatives.
TSTF is a Spanish operator with a base in that well-known city of seafarers, Madrid.
The company has operated in land-based logistics since it was established two years ago, but directors believe running the Aberdeen to Lerwick route will give it a vital foothold in the northern European market.
Elected members and officials are known to be planning a fact-finding trip to Madrid to better understand the company’s intentions. Although the company has no ships, it is hoped the agreement could forge the way for an EU trade deal post-Brexit.
It comes after Westminster government’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling faced criticism for the £13.8m deal with Seaborne Freight, which the media later found had never run a ferry service.
The bid has caused some alarm in the isles.
Freight operators are known to be alarmed about the prospect of losing one hundred per cent of their current capacity.
One fishing industry representative was heard to proclaim: “This is an absolute joke.”
But while certainly an unusual prospect, council bods are known to be quietly coming round to the idea of awarding the ferry contract to a company that does not sail.
A delegation of senior SIC councillors and officials has been busily knotting hankies in time for a tax-payer-funded flight to Madrid today.
The Shetland Times understand that there is a belief among the group that awarding the deal to TSTF would deal, in one fell swoop, with repeated calls for ferries to burn less fuel.
“If there are no ferries running then no fossil fuels will be burned,” the head of the fact-finding mission proclaimed.
But one pro-EU member was challenged over the similarities between the TSTF bid and the Brexit story, which saw the government heavily criticised.
“Sometimes, Truth is Stranger Than Fiction,” he said.