Shared cabins are unlikely to be available on NorthLink crossings “any time soon” – and may never return.
Transport Scotland’s Alan McCabe said there was “no likelihood” of the shared facilities returning while Covid was still a “major factor”.
Speaking at the Shetland external transport forum today (Wednesday) Mr McCabe also said the gender identity debate was causing fresh complications.
He highlighted reports there were now more than 100 officially recognised genders.
“It’s not just as simple as males or females sharing a berth,” he said.
Mr McCabe said some groups were not prepared to share cabins with people who now identified as a different gender to their sex at birth.
“It’s getting to be a bit of a minefield,” he added.
“We are already taking legal advice on this and we will be looking at it in further detail.”
The discussion arose after Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall highlighted concerns about the ongoing inability to book shared cabins.
Mrs Lyall said people were instead sleeping in pods, which she felt posed greater Covid risks as more people were confined close together.
“By taking a cabin, albeit a shared cabin, you are reducing your interactions to a maximum of three other people and also reducing costs,” she said.
Mr McCabe said NorthLink had carried out risk assessments, which were supported by Transport Scotland.
He said shared cabins meant strangers were sharing door handles, remote controls, light switches and more, all of which posed a risk of transmission.