Community first

Operating from the archipelago of the Orkney Islands in the Northern Isles of Scotland, Orkney Ferries has represented a vital community transport link to the islands since the 1800s. It was originally established in 1960 as the Orkney Islands Shipping Company. In 1995 the company was taken over, in its most modern iteration, by the Orkney Islands Council, and changed its name to Orkney Ferries Ltd. Today Orkney Ferries continues to serve the local community by carrying cargo and passengers between the Orkney mainland and surrounding islands. In all the company’s ferries sail from the Orkney mainland and 13 smaller islands and during the financial year ending in March 2015, its ferries carried some 321,000 passengers and 84,000 vehicles.

The Orkney Islands boast a range of features and events that make them an attractive destination to visitors throughout the year. The Islands have a fascinating history extending from as early as 5000BC to the turbulent years of World War 2, as well as an exciting opportunity for archaeology. They also offer picturesque scenery, a diverse base of wildlife and birds and a welcoming experience of island life with arts and crafts and music events, including the Orkney Folk Festival and the St Magnus Festival. “Orkney is a popular destination during the summer tourist season, but also in the shoulder months, particularly Christmas and Easter,” reveals Ferry Services Manager, Fraser Murray. “In addition to tourists who travel to Orkney independently, Orkney is now the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK, with circa 110 port calls due during 2016, delivering 110,000 passengers and worth an estimated £5.8 million in economic benefit to Orkney.”

The islands are also increasingly an important destination owing to the on-going development of renewable energy solutions. The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) Ltd. was established on Orkney during 2003 as the first and only centre of its kind in the world. EMEC was founded with the intention to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters with purpose-built, accredited open-sea testing facilities. Orkney represents an ideal base for the facility, with an excellent oceanic wave regime, strong tidal currents, established grid connection, sheltered harbour facilities and the renewable, maritime and environmental expertise that is present within the local community. “A new development in this area has been the Surf n’ Turf project on the island of Eday, which is expected to be operational by late 2016,” Fraser elaborates. “This uses spare renewable electricity generating capacity to convert energy into hydrogen, which is then stored and eventually used to convert back to electricity when other renewables cannot meet demand. In this research phase, it will be transported to Kirkwall Harbour where a fuel cell will convert it back to electricity to provide shore power to Orkney Ferries vessels and other harbour users. It is also being utilised as a marine training exercise in the handling of hydrogen.”

As a vital transport link to Orkney and the surrounding community, Orkney Ferries work in close collaboration with the local authority and residents to fully understand and meet the requirements of the local population. “We have no other competitors, as we are the sole provider of ferry services in the area under a service level agreement with Orkney Islands Council, which owns the company,” Fraser explains. “We meet with travel representatives from each island twice a year to discuss future timetables and service issues. We are also in regular contact with Community Councils and other organisations that host local events, where we often change our regular timetable to accommodate people wishing to attend.”

In terms of the operation of its ferries, Orkney Ferries is the first in the world to host a new novel communications technology on its vessels in collaboration with CloudNet IT Solutions. TV whitespace is being operated under license from OFCOM in Orkney using the TV frequency spectrum to deliver high-speed internet out to sea and has a proven ability to work out to 30 nautical miles. CloudNet is currently extending its trial network and is operating a network in the region of 1000 sq km of coastal waters surrounding the Orkney Islands. The Orkney vessels MV Earl Sigurd, MV Earl Thorfinn and MV Varagen have been using the technology since 2014 to provide the ship’s company and crew with internet access to assist in the ship’s business needs, proving up-to-date weather forecasts, shipping information, charts, company email and welfare services to the crew. This is an exciting time for the company. “We see the further trial of this technology as potentially offering a cost-effective solution to enable our customers to have Wi-Fi access during their journeys in the future,” Fraser exclaims.

Throughout the coming year, Orkney Ferries will continue to serve the local community by providing a vital transport and logistical link. In doing so the company will seek to address the diverse needs of the local population in the face of logistical challenges and volatile weather conditions. “The exceptionally bad weather in 2015 has affected farmers severely through poor grazing and inadequate production of forage and fodder for livestock over the winter of 2015 and spring of 2016. As a result large quantities of straw had to be imported and shipped out to the islands. To date this has been circa 30 articulated lorries and is likely to have an on-going impact over the coming months,” Fraser concludes.

Orkney Ferries
Fleet of nine inter-island ferries

Routes to 13 islands around Orkney

Wi-Fi technology investment