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Further disruption to Orkney ferry services after Pentalina grounding

The Pentalina ran aground on April 29 (Alamy/PA)
The Pentalina ran aground on April 29 (Alamy/PA)

Ferry services on Orkney face will be disrupted for a further fortnight following the grounding of a Pentland Ferries vessel last month.

Services between Gills Bay on the mainland and St Margaret’s Hope on Orkney are being cancelled until Sunday May 21, the ferry operator announced.

It comes after the Pentalina ran aground at St Margaret’s Hope on April 29 with 60 passengers on board.

No-one was hurt in the incident, which is continuing to be investigated.

Initial reports suggest the ferry suffered from a “sudden mechanical failure”, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

Pentland Ferries said in a statement on its website on Sunday: “We are grateful for the many expressions of concern and support following the grounding of MV Pentalina last Saturday (April 29).

“On the back of these, we would like to confirm that MCA and MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) investigations are still ongoing.

“We regret that we are now cancelling all passenger bookings on the St Margaret’s Hope to Gills Bay route up to and including Sunday May 21.

Jamie Halcro Johnston
Scottish Conservative Jamie Halcro Johnston said the delay was disappointing (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

“All booked passengers are being contacted directly.

“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience. We are doing all we can to minimise the disruption and will share any further updates as and when we can.

An additional Sunday return service has been added to the timetable of the Northlink ferry service between Stromness on Orkney and Scrabster on the mainland until June 25.

Jamie Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Conservative’s business, trade, tourism and enterprise spokesman, said: “This delay will be disappointing news for both Orcadians and for the visitors who make a vital contribution to the islands’ economy.

“I know Pentland Ferries will be working hard to get their service back up and running as soon as possible but while the Pentalina’s grounding may have been down to mechanical failure, it was only being used because the route’s regular vessel, the MV Alfred, has been lent to CalMac to plug gaps in its ageing fleet on the west coast.

“The SNP Government’s failure to deliver new vessels is a betrayal of our island communities which continues to have a devastating impact. Yet, despite inexcusable delays and many millions of public money wasted, they are no closer to resolving this national scandal.”

Two ferries being built at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow for CalMac are hugely over budget and heavily delayed.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, from Orkney, said: “Confirmation of this further delay is disappointing but not unexpected given the seriousness of the incident last weekend.

“It is vital though that every effort is made to limit the impact on the travelling public, local businesses and the movement of freight.

“This will require Pentland Ferries to work closely with Transport Scotland and Northlink Ferries in sharing information on future bookings and cancellations.

“It will also require the transport minister to approve an increase in daily sailings on the Stromness-Scrabster route both to meet demand at particular times and ensure proper connectivity.

“In a letter to me last week, Kevin Stewart indicated that Northlink were actively considering plans to increase sailings. This further delay makes the need for clarity on such additional capacity all the more urgent.”

Transport Minister Kevin Stewart said the “priority remains for Pentland Ferries to take the necessary next steps to determine when the Pentalina can return to service on the Pentland Firth” and that “all parties will work to minimise disruption to services to Orkney and Parliament will be kept updated”.

“We are committed to the completion of the two ferries at the Ferguson Marine shipyard, and supporting our island communities that rely on this type of vessel on a daily basis,” said Mr Stewart.

“More broadly, we have invested over £2 billion in our ferry services since 2007 and we have outlined plans to invest around £700 million in a five-year plan to improve ferry infrastructure.

“Since May 2021, we have bought and deployed an additional vessel in MV Loch Frisa in June, chartered the MV Arrow, commissioned two new vessels for Islay, progressed investment in essential harbour infrastructure, and now we are delivering a further two new Islay-class vessels.”