Northern Isles MSPs, Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, have today repeated their calls for the Scottish Government to make additional freight capacity available on Orkney and Shetland ferry routes. the call comes as Ministers confirm the purchase of the two freight ferries, MV Helliar and MV Hildasay, that currently operate on the routes from Aberdeen to Kirkwall, Orkney and Lerwick.
The two vessels were previously chartered, but Ministers have used existing capital ‘underspend’ to purchase the vessels outright. With the option of leasing in freight vessels on an ad hoc basis becoming increasingly limited, a formal deal has been completed and they will now join the Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) fleet.
While Mr McArthur and Mr Scott welcomed the move, they pointed out that this would not address the growing capacity issues on Northern Isles routes. This is an issue that Mr MrArthur highlighted with First Minister last September, on the back of serious concerns in Orkney and Shetland that vital freight shipments were under threat of being left on the quayside.
Commenting on the announcement today, Mr McArthur and Mr Scott said:
“This seems to be a sensible move by the Scottish Government. It makes good use of available underspend in the government’s capital budget and should help cuts revenue costs going forward.
“Nevertheless, this does nothing to expand the freight capacity available on these routes or respond to the growing demands of linchpin industries in Orkney and Shetland.
“Last year, we saw £2 million worth of fresh fish being left overnight in Lerwick because there was not enough space on the passenger vessels departing for Aberdeen. An unmitigated disaster was only then averted at the 11th hour after third freight vessel was temporarily leased by Serco NorthLink to cope with demand. Meantime, Orkney Mart has raised similar concerns about the risks to the farming sector in Orkney.
“The current operator has prepared reasonable, evidence-based options for including a third freight vessel within the current fleet. Despite earlier assurances from the First Minister, however, the Scottish Government has failed to respond to those proposals or explain why such capacity is not needed. That is not good enough. Not only does it pose a threat to the economies of Orkney and Shetland, it also undermines efforts to maximise the contribution that the Northern Isles make to the Scottish economy in future.”