NorthLink has responded to mounting concerns about over-crowding after photos of folk sleeping on the floor led to demands for action.
Images of the passengers “sleeping rough” on Thursday’s southbound sailing from Shetland have been branded “unacceptable” by isles politicians.
The crowded crossing followed the weather-related cancellation of Loganair’s Sumburgh flights, which saw passenger numbers near full capacity on the ferry.
NorthLink Ferries’ operations director John Strathearn said the flights’ cancellation saw a “last-minute surge” in foot passengers.
Captain Strathearn said NorthLink had thankfully been able to accommodate all of the additional passengers.
“While our ferry was busy amid the summer season, we can confirm there was a seat available on board for every passenger on the vessel, and all passengers reached their destination safely,” he said.
The situation brought into sharp focus the escalating concerns of recent months, during which folk have struggled to make bookings on their preferred day of travel or to secure suitable accommodation – namely cabin space – on board.
It has led to renewed calls for shared cabin bookings to be reinstated and for daytime sailings to be considered as a solution to the “crippling” capacity issues.
Hauliers and exporters have also called for improved capacity on freight services.
Thursday night’s situation, which has been described by passengers as “grim” and “appalling”, has also seen politicians call for urgent action.
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael has called on the Scottish transport minister, the head of Transport Scotland and the managing director of Serco Northlink to come to Shetland urgently to address the quality of the lifeline ferry service
Mr Carmichael said: “The pictures we have seen show an unacceptable level of service for the local community.
“This is not a new problem but it now goes well beyond what is acceptable. It is also entirely predictable. You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to know that when the schools break up for the summer holidays the boats will be busy.
“I have been told by those involved that there were pensioners and children on the floor around the vessel. That is simply wrong.”
Highland and Islands MSP Jamie Halco Johnston has also written to NorthLink Ferries’ managing director Stuart Garrett, as well as the Scottish government’s transport minister, Jenny Gilruth MSP.
“The reports of folk, particularly older residents and families, being forced to bunk down overnight wherever they can onboard is concerning,” he said.
“These are vital lifeline links for islanders – whether that’s for work, visiting family and friends south, or sometimes for medical appointments – and it’s clear there simply isn’t the capacity to provide the necessary accommodation for all, particular during the busy summer period.
“It’s important that all ways of reducing these pressures on capacity are explored, and I’ve written to both NorthLink and to the transport minister to ensure they are working together on this.”