ISLAND hauliers and seafood businesses have written to the Scottish Government over freight ferry provision amid a near 20-per cent hike in traffic and "no relief" in sight.

Shetland’s Stewart Building Transport Group, which represents the islands’ seafood industry and hauliers, has written to Scottish Transport Minister Graeme Dey urging the government “to address the growing freight transport crisis in the Northern Isles”.

The group said that while it highlighted at a September meeting "the worsening situation for Shetland" - detailing the 19 per cent rise in freight traffic, the regular delays in goods being shipped, the costly effects of hauliers’ trailers being stranded at the ports, and the increasing damage to the Shetland economy – it claimed "the minister has offered, in the opinion of the group, no relief to the crisis”.

It comes after Mr Dey confirmed in correspondence that any new vessels commissioned by the Scottish Government will not be operational until 2026.

“You should understand,” said the group in its response, “that Shetland and the business community here which relies on freight transport must have a solution to the crisis here and now rather than in five years.” 

The group said the minister also indicated that the government agency Transport Scotland would be introducing a pilot scheme to encourage hauliers to make use of weekend sailing. This initiative was seen by the group as having “little or no merit”, with customers "being resistant to taking deliveries over weekends and producers and hauliers being forced to incur the costs of adjusting their entire operations to a seven-day week - this at a time when labour shortages and other pressures are well documented".

The group added: “The commercial pressures faced by hauliers (and in turn their customers) if trailers are not shipped when required are quite intolerable, with the knock-on result that precious trailers are not subsequently on station when and where they are required.”

It said that as the minister states in his letter that a broker is looking for a vessel to charter, the group "questions this sole option".

It continues: “We would strongly urge that all options, including purchase, must be considered for the North Isles as well as the West Coast routes, given the dire circumstances we face.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Minister for Transport recently met with the Stewart Building Group to hear from them directly on the challenges that industries are facing.

“Whilst acknowledging that the planned development of the two new freight vessels would address the issue in the longer term, the minister also assured that work was under way to explore potential shorter term actions that could alleviate some pressures on the busiest sailings. The minister was clear about the importance of supporting commercial freight traffic for the economic wellbeing of key rural industries and our island communities.

“He also reiterated that CMAL continues to look for opportunities for suitable second hand tonnage that could be added to the West Coast or Northern Isles fleets.”

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