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Scottish Deal Sees CMAL Acquire Ferries Serving the Northern Isles

24th May 2018
The trio of ferries that CMAL are involved in a deal with the Northern Isles service operated by NorthLink's network of routes between Scotland, Orkney and the Shetland Isles in the North Sea.  In the top photo is MV Hamnavoe: Scrabster-Stromness (Orkney) and below larger half-sisters MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey that serve the main longer Aberdeen-Orkney-Shetland routes. The trio of ferries that CMAL are involved in a deal with the Northern Isles service operated by NorthLink's network of routes between Scotland, Orkney and the Shetland Isles in the North Sea. In the top photo is MV Hamnavoe: Scrabster-Stromness (Orkney) and below larger half-sisters MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey that serve the main longer Aberdeen-Orkney-Shetland routes. Credit: CMAL

#FerryNews - Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) with loan funding from the Scottish Government has agreed to acquire three Northlink passenger ferries serving the Northern Isles, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The deal announced in rcent weeks, sees CMAL purchase outright the trio of ferries that operate Northlink's network of routes between Scotland and Orkney and the Shetlands. In addition to running an interisland service. 

Northlink's ferry fleet which have previously been leased from Royal Bank of Scotland, will be taken into CMAL ownership.

Ferries involved in the deal are the 600 passenger/160 car sisters MV Hjaltland and MV Hrossey and smaller half-sister MV Hamnavoe also with the same passenger capacity but handling 95 cars. They were all built in 2002 and can transport 30 trucks each except in the case of the smaller' ferry's 20 truck capacity.  

The 11,720 tonnes sisters operate the Aberdeen-Kirkwall (Orkney)-Lerwick (Shetland) routes (12 hours direct or 14 hours if calling via Orkney). As for the 8,780 tonnes, Hamnavoe serves Scrabster-Stromness (Orkney) which is a shorter sailing time of 1 hour 30 minutes.

Due to delayed works at Scrabster in 2002 to accommodate Hamnavoe, Caledonian MacBrayne's (CalMac) Western Isles ferry, Hebridean Isles maintained sailings until early 2003. The CalMac ferry as previously reported on Afloat had an incident when berthing at Kennacraig in 2016. 

Both CMAL and CalMac part of the David MacBrayne Group, are owned by Scottish Ministers. 

An 18-month extension to the current Northern Isles Ferry Services contract to Serco Northlink Ferries (also operated on behalf of Scottish Ministers) has also been agreed. This is to allow further progress to be made with the ongoing review of procurement policy.

NorthLink will continue to operate the services until 31st October 2019 under the extended contract

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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