Minister finds new cash for Shetland ferries

Shetland Islands, Scotland: Scottish transport minister Keith Brown said the government had found new money to help reduce the period Shetland is without a second ferry this winter.

Speaking during a visit to the islands on Thursday, Brown assured islanders that the government was not discriminating against them in favour of the western isles.

Shetland’s seafood industry has been up in arms since it was announced that the daily service to Aberdeen will be halved for nine weeks as operators NorthLink put their three 10 year old ferries through their five yearly extended refit.

One of Shetland’s two ferries was to stand in for the Hamnavoe on the Pentland Firth route between Stromness and Scrabster.

However on Thursday Brown said that the government was now seeking a partnership deal with Shetland Islands Council and NorthLink to come up with £250,000 to lease the CalMac ferry Hebridean Princess for the Pentland Firth route for three weeks.

He said the government would pay the lion’s share of the cost. The SIC will discuss whether to make a contribution on 12 January, but councillors will be concerned about setting a precedent by agreeing to the deal, which would cut the period of disruption in Shetland to six weeks.

The islands’ seafood industry is worth £300 million a year and depends on the ferry route to export its product on a daily basis.

Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison said the drydock period placed extra pressure on the industry.

“I would stress very forcefully that this is the equivalent of the M8 for us in terms of our access to market, it is like having further restrictions on a couple of lanes on the motorway for our export traffic,” he said.

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