The Invitation to Tender for the next contract to run the Northern Isles Ferry Services has been issued to three bidders.
Submission of final tenders is scheduled for March 2019, with a view to awarding the contract in July 2019.
The contract is estimated to be worth £370m and will run for eight years.
Paul Wheelhouse,Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands in the Scottish Government , said:
“Issuing the Invitation to Tender marks the next stage of the process to award the new contract to operate the Northern Isles Ferry Services.
“The contract will run for eight years, allowing us to build a strong working relationship with the successful bidder, and all the routes within the network are being tendered as a single bundle.
“The Scottish Government remains fully committed to high quality ferry services to the Northern Isles. A key benefit of this new contract is the in-built flexibility, allowing the ferry services to be amended to reflect future changes in demand across the important sectors of the islands’ economies – tourism, fishing, food and drink, aquaculture and farming. Scottish Ministers will also retain control of all of important issues, such as fares and timetables, through the public service contract.
“We are committed to a fair, open and transparent tender which aims to get the best possible deal for the communities that depend on these ferry services.”