21 June 2002

Ferry services in race against time to maintain links

Engineers and designers are working flat out to ensure that a change to ferry services this autumn from the islands of Orkney and Shetland will not, as many farmers fear, leave a total of 20,000 cattle and 180,000 sheep stranded without access to the mainland markets.

In September, all existing livestock transport services between the Northern Isles and Aberdeen will cease, with a new contract between the Scottish Executive and Northlink due to replace them.

But design of a cassette system which will be used to load stock direct from lorries on to the Northlink boat, seemed to have little chance of being ready on time – until now.

Many producers were beginning to panic that their main autumn selling period could be lost, leaving them facing the prospect of over-wintering the 20,000 cattle and 180,000 sheep that are traditionally sold on the mainland.

New cassettes

But the Scottish Executive has assured farmers that the existing service, operated by P&O Ferries, will continue through to Nov 1 if the new cassettes are not ready.

The aim of the cassettes -being designed by SAC engineers working under contract to Orkney Marine Logistics – is to provide a welfare-friendly transport system so that time spent at sea does not have to count in overall journey times.

And at the Royal Highland Show this week, details about the new system and the cassettes will be unveiled for the first time on the SAC stand. &#42