Hopes for ‘perfectly suited’ freight vessel to become frequent visitor

A special cargo service brought long-running frustrations over freight capacity under heightened focus this week.

Hauliers and seafood sector representatives have issued fresh demands for suitable second-hand tonnage – warning that Shetland’s economy will suffer and jobs will go unless immediate action is taken.

The calls came after cargo vessel Bore Bay docked at Holmsgarth on Saturday as part of a special sailing for freight operator Northwards.

Although it was a one-off arrangement, mainly to deliver Viking Energy windfarm equipment, business leaders have since pushed for the vessel to be brought in more frequently to help out during peak periods.

They were frustrated that Bore Bay had been previously rejected as unsuitable for the NorthLink service when offered up for last year’s autumn livestock season.

Seafood Shetland chief executive Ruth Henderson said that while Transport Scotland repeatedly claimed Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) was looking for suitable second-hand tonnage to support the Northern Isles fleet – none had yet been deemed suitable.

Given that Bore Bay had also been deemed unsuitable, Ms Henderson said it was important to ask: “What exactly are the criteria – and how many other ships have been rejected without informed consideration?”

“It is deeply frustrating that this situation seems impossible to resolve,” she added.

“If action isn’t taken right now to secure a vessel, we will, once again, have serious constraints placed upon the service in six months’ time when livestock shipping season is upon us.”

Ms Henderson, who was speaking for the Stewart Building Transport Group, said businesses had “serious doubts” whether the Scottish government and its agencies were genuinely looking to secure another vessel.

“Instead, it seems that they are intending to rely on the operator, who will have to negotiate and prioritise what can and can’t go on any given day, both in terms of passengers and freight.

“We have said before and we say it again now following the response to the successful Bore Bay delivery.

“We are facing a freight transport crisis, and the lack of any progress by Transport Scotland and the government is a real threat to Shetland’s – and indeed Scotland’s – economy and the sustainability of many jobs here.”

Northwards director Neil Lesley has also called for Bore Bay to be considered for future use, saying she was “perfectly suited” to the Aberdeen-Lerwick route and would have eased the extreme pressure at peak times.

“Saturday’s operation has, we believe, demonstrated the technical viability of the vessel, her ability to dock at Holmsgarth, and her capacity to carry freight to and from Shetland, something for which the Shetland business community has been crying out for over many years,” he added.

“We very much hope that Transport Scotland will note the success of the operation and, in particular, reconsider its options ready for the next livestock season.”

The special sailing was provided through Northwards’ parent company, Sea Cargo, and included connections with Esbjerg, Rotterdam and Bergen.

She arrived at noon on Saturday and the cargo was handled within four hours.

Sea Cargo had offered Bore Bay for a period last year to cover the lack of capacity during the livestock shipping period – however it was rejected.

It is understood the rejection was due to her being deemed unsuitable for berthing in Aberdeen. However Sea Cargo has pointed to its experience of using the port.

Transport Scotland said it understood NorthLink had been approached at short notice with an indication that the vessel may be available.

“However, following their assessment they determined it would not be suitable for their needs for a number of reasons,” the government agency said in a statement.

“It should also be noted that, working closely with its customers, NorthLink managed the busy livestock season with the existing fleet.

“They will continue to work with stakeholders and keep options for this year under review.

“We continue to work closely with CMAL and our ferry operators to help address the challenges facing our ferry network and we have always been clear that we would explore any appropriate charter or purchase of second hand tonnage if available.

“We would of course need to consider the suitability of a vessel for the routes and services which we operate and the terms and affordability of any such arrangement in full.”

NorthLink was approached for comment but said it had nothing to add.


Add Your Comment
  • Ali Inkster

    • February 20th, 2023 10:40

    This clearly demonstrates that the powers that be in holyrood have no intention of providing the services needed for Shetland to not only flourish but to just carry on as we are.
    A perfectly suitable boat dismissed out of hand with the claim it couldn’t berth in Aberdeen.
    Local livestock producers and fishermen left with their time sensitive product sitting on the pier due to lack of capacity. While empty cement trucks from the windfarm had priority.
    A recent piece in the paper by the snp msp was put down to ignorance, but I say they know fine well what they are doing it’s just we the people who live in Shetland are not very high up their priority list if we even appear on it at all.


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