Orkney Ferries Raised Again in Parliament & The Nordic Sea Saga

The sorry state of Orkney’s internal ferry fleet and the need to get the vessels renewed has again been raised in the Scottish Parliament.

Varagen Orkney Ferries

Orkney Constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, LibDem, asked the Transport Minister, Graeme Dey about the replacement of the internal ferry fleet.

Liam McArthur pointed out the disparity in funding arrangements between Orkney and the Western Isles.

Liam McArthur put this to the Minister on 12th January 2022:

“The minister will be aware that the per head of population funding settlement that Western Isles Council receives is significantly higher than the one that Orkney Islands Council receives, but ferry replacement costs on west-coast routes are covered by the Scottish Government while OIC is left to pick up the significant tab for replacing the ageing vessels on internal northern isles services.

“Does the minister believe that that is fair and, if not, what will he do about it?”

Graeme Dey reminded Liam McArthur of the “the substantial amount of funding that has already been provided to Orkney Islands Council”.

And continued:

“both funding for service delivery and capital funding for the replacement of a vessel, if memory serves me.

“Those vessels are the responsibility of the local authority, but I am aware that there is dialogue between the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Orkney Islands Council and others on the subject of what future ferry replacement funding would look like.”

It was confirmed in January 2021 by the then Transport Minister, Paul Whitehouse, that OIC would receive  £7.855 million for that coming financial year for the funding of the internal ferry fleet.

The Nordic Sea Saga

In 2020 OIC was given an extra £750,000 towards the cost of the Nordic Sea which the council had bought at an estimated capital cost of £1,535,000. That is a saga that continues – ongoing costs unknown.

In December of last year the Council’s Head of Marine Services, Transportation and Harbour Master, Jim Buck admitted that the process to get the Nordic Sea into service ” has taken longer than some had expected.” That was in anticipation of her  inaugural journey on the Papay to Westray route on 3rd December 2021.

The latest news on the Nordic Sea as of 12th January 2022 is that the damage done to the fibre glass hull has now been repaired.

An unrelated defect was also found on one of the stabilisers which requires repair. These spare parts have to come from Norway, and it is not known when these will arrive.

The Papa Westray Pier will also require works done to it (a point many islanders raised at the time of the purchase of the Nordic Sea for this route).

So it is back to The Golden Mariana to provide this service.

On this recent turn of events about the Nordic Sea Saga Jim Buck said:

“It’s not possible to give a date yet for return to service until we know the timeline for the arrival of parts and contractor progress. We will, of course, keep the public informed of said progress and when a resumption of the Nordic Sea on the route is going to happen as timely as is possible.

“We apologise to the travelling public for this interruption of service by the Nordic Sea after what we recognise was a much-awaited newer vessel. We hope that it won’t be too long before the more modern and accessible vessel is back on the route. We thank the public for their ongoing patience after what has been a trying time for all concerned.”

Having received his reply from the Transport Minister in the Scottish Parliament on the extra funding OIC got from the Scottish Government previously, Liam McArthur said:

“The disparity in local authority funding between Orkney and the Western Isles has long been a source of concern.

“However, when Ministers then assert that ferry replacement costs must be met by Orkney Islands Council, but not by their counterparts on the west coast, it simply runs salt in the wounds.

“Indeed, during the same question time, the Transport Minister boasted about a £60m Scottish Government investment in port infrastructure serving one west coast route, even though it falls under the responsibility of the local Council. That being the case, there is no reason why similar investment cannot be made in vessel replacement on Orkney’s lifeline internal ferry routes.  

“I welcome confirmation that discussions are ongoing between the Finance Secretary and OIC.  However, there has been no lack of discussions over the years. What we need to see is agreement reached, procurement started and vessels delivered.”

Information about the different ferry companies serving within the Islands Authorities


CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, which is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers. It runs 33 vessels to over 50 ports and harbours, across 200 miles of Scotland’s west coast. Operating to 27 ports and has delegated authority at 17 statutory harbours on behalf of owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd.

Rhubodach Ferry named (Loch Dunvegan) to Colintraive

Orkney Ferries

In 1987, Orkney Islands Council assumed responsibility for the inter islands’ ferry services, and in 1995 Orkney Islands Shipping Company changed its name to Orkney Ferries Ltd. There are now 9 vessels in the fleet serving 13 islands.

Shetland Ferries

Shetland Ferries is run by Shetland Islands Council. It runs services to 7 islands with the Foula service operated by B.K Marine

All of these ferry operators have an ageing ferry fleet.

sunset at Houton Ferry terminal Image Bell

Fiona Grahame

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