NorthLink’s rapid response to maintain capacity after the grounding of an Orkney ferry has raised questions about why it cannot do more for Shetland.
The operator provided extra return crossings after Pentland Ferries vessel Alfred was grounded on on Swona last Tuesday.
While NorthLink has been widely praised for stepping in to the rescue, it has also faced calls to consider similar solutions to Shetland’s capacity problems – such as daytime sailings.
Lerwick Community Council (LCC) member Stewart Hay said the prompt response from NorthLink and Transport Scotland was in “direct contradiction” to their speed in addressing freight and passenger concerns in Shetland.
Speaking at last night’s (Monday) LCC meeting, Mr Hay noted that the Hamnavoe was now “moving almost continuously” across the Pentland Firth.
While the timetable changes were achieved “within days”, Mr Hay said people in Shetland had been complaining about capacity problems for years without resolution.
He said the troubles were now costing hotels bookings because “people won’t spend the night in a chair” on the ferry.
Council chairman Jim Anderson suggested NorthLink and Transport Scotland should attend the next Association of Shetland Community Councils meeting in September.
“You don’t have to go very far to hear folk saying unkind things about NorthLink,” he said.
“I know from bitter experience that you don’t get a good night’s sleep sleeping on the floor.
“But in fairness to NorthLink, they did get me south which Loganair didn’t.”
The capacity problems came under fire following a southbound crossing two weeks ago during which customers had to “sleep rough” on the floor following a last minute surge in foot passengers.
While NorthLink has insisted everyone on board had a seat – Mr Anderson said it was not enough for a 12 hour overnight journey.
During his recent crossing, Mr Anderson said passengers were sleeping in the restaurant because people were “partying” in the reclining seats.
He said the ongoing ban on shared cabins meant that as many as 200 beds could be going unused.
“I don’t know what the answer is but doing nothing is certainly not enough,” he said.
Councillor Arwed Wenger said reclining chairs were “wrong” for overnight journeys.
One suggestion, was to offer accommodation along the lines of a “hostel bunk room”, similar to that offered on the Norröna.