Service crew

Hotels and sleeping in cars – reduction in Yell ferry service causes problems for travelers

PAYING £200 for hotel rooms, sleeping in the car overnight with a seven-month-old dog – these are just a few examples of the impact of crew shortages on the Yell ferry affecting crossings.

Due to crew illness and lack of cover, ferry bosses said they had no choice but to halt crossings between Toft and Yell beyond 7pm for a large part of the week.

The shortened service began on Tuesday and is expected to return to normal hours from Saturday.

This reflects recent disruptions to the Bluemull Sound service, which serves Unst and Fetlar, with one of the two vessels being moored for long periods.

At one point, people were asked to consider whether their travel was essential.

Earlier this week Shetland Islands Council apologized for the inconvenience caused by Yell Sound’s latest disruption – admitting there are not enough qualified staff available.

But the lack of evening crossings has impacted a number of potential passengers – including those left behind and those stranded.

Two people shared their stories of how the disruption affected them.

Alan Skinner, who lives in Yell, said he had paid nearly £200 for a hotel stay on mainland Shetland for himself and his daughter, who is due to travel from Australia, due to reduced service.

This is because she arrives from the plane in Sumburgh at 5.45pm on Friday – meaning that after her father collects and collects the bags, she is likely to miss the last ferry to Yell at 6.55pm.

“I’m very lucky that Busta House has rooms, because if not, what the hell are you doing for accommodation?” Skinner said.

“The two rooms alone will cost me £200. There’s no way I can claim that on travel insurance as it’s not like I’ve paid for a trip in advance with a credit card.

“This is my daughter’s first time in Shetland in over five years, we haven’t seen her in over three years, and we have to spend the first night in a hotel in Brae rather than being at home drinking champagne.

Skinner, who co-runs an art gallery in Yell that depends on the tourism sector, said the continued disruption is “so damaging to the reputation of Shetland”.

“This is absolutely outrageous – how on earth can they run a vital service so badly?” he said. “At the height of the tourist season… how will tourists know that the ferry service has been cancelled?

Toft Ferry Terminal, the gateway to mainland Shetland to Yell, Unst and Fetlar.

Meanwhile, a tourist from Aberdeen said she had to sleep in the car alongside her partner and dog on Tuesday after turning up at the Ulsta ferry terminal unaware that ferry crossings to the continent had stopped.

Joy Aiken tried a B&B in Yell, but was told their last rooms had been booked by people who were also stuck on the island.

As it was around 9.30pm, the couple didn’t want to disturb anyone else, so they decided to lie down in their car at the Ulsta ferry terminal.

Aiken said they had visited Unst and planned to take a no-booking boat to mainland Shetland.

“We went to the terminal and the signs said the ferries had closed earlier in the evening,” she said.

“We have a seven month old Westie so she slept in the back seat and we put the seats down and slept there for the night.

“We had the first ferry in the morning at a quarter past six. We slept for a bit, but had to come home and go back to our beds – so did the dog.

She acknowledged the council had posted the ferry news online, but “if you’re on holiday you don’t always check social media”.

Regardless of the ferry situation, Aiken said she and her partner really enjoyed visiting “beautiful” Shetland.

The chair of the Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee, Moraig Lyall, said earlier this week that she wanted to acknowledge the patience shown by travelers – as well as the staff “working very hard in difficult difficult circumstances”.

“I know how appalling and disruptive this will be, particularly for island residents, and our officers have been working hard to try and find an alternative approach,” the adviser said.

“However, at the moment, on this route, we simply do not have sufficiently qualified personnel available to replace sick colleagues, and the safety of passengers and crew must be our main priority.

“We expect service to return to normal over the weekend. I would like to acknowledge the patience shown by the traveling public and to thank our staff who work very hard in difficult circumstances. »

In June, Shetland Islands Council ferry and airport operations manager Andrew Inkster – responding to a major disruption on Bluemull Sound – said “we are doing everything we can to minimize disruption”.

He said the absence of staff due to illness was compounded by vacancies in the service, while furloughs – particularly during the summer holidays – are another factor in the mix.

Inkster said work is going on in the background to look at ways to make ferry jobs more attractive, including working hours.

But there are strict regulations regarding certifications and qualifications for aircrew.

This comes as the salmon sector also continues to offer competitive compensation and shift models.