TRANSPORT minister Keith Brown has been challenged to face the people affected after the ‘lifeline’ ferry service between Orkney and Scrabster was put out of action.
Publicly-funded operators Serco Northlink say the ferry Hamnavoe, which suffered a serious mechanical fault in one of her engines, will be out of service for at least a month.
They are considering a replacement, but passengers are currently travelling via Aberdeen or changing their plans and using a privately run ferry from Gills Bay in Caithness.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has called on the Scottish Transport Minister to address the community about the situation.
He said: “The Scottish Transport minister should have been in Orkney first thing on Monday morning to speak to the community about this increasingly farcical situation.
“Keith Brown has said he is ‘satisfied’ with the situation. That can only mean one thing – he does not know the truth of what is going on here. He is sitting in his office in Edinburgh ‘monitoring’ the situation which seems to mean that he is being briefed by his own officials and by Serco.
“I see nothing to make me think that either have a proper understanding of the situation facing the community in Orkney and everything to make me think that they are just telling him what he wants to hear.
“If he had bothered to speak to people in Orkney he would know that the complete absence of information here is causing problems to local people and businesses.
“The Transport minister now must get up to Orkney and face the community. He needs to hear the truth from us and to act on it.”
Businesses in both Stromness and Caithness claim they are losing around £500 a day with the loss of business at the beginning of the tourist season.
Highland councillor Alex Macleod said:”Over the past days, folk in Caithness have watched with concern as Serco Northlink fail to deliver the life-line service from Scrabster to Stromness.
“I have written to the Scottish Government and to Northlink, expressing the deep concern felt by local residents and business at the news that Serco will not replace the Hamnavoe until at least 24th May 2013.
“This is a blow to tourism in Caithness. Despite the excellent alternative service provided by Pentland Ferries, this will mean thousands of passengers will be diverted away from the County.
“Northlink have made no effort to mitigate this impact, instead advising passengers to travel via Aberdeen. There is no doubt that this fiasco will leave Caithness businesses out of pocket.
“This isn’t just an Orkney problem - it is a very real problem for the County of Caithness.
“Serco Northlink has acted in a totally ill-prepared and frantic manner. I want to see The Scottish Government impose the maximum penalties at their disposal. I also want to see Northlink advise their customers of alternative routes to Orkney via Caithness, because they serve the mainland as much as they do the islands.”
A spokesman for Serco Northlink said the situation was being treated as a matter of urgency.