A vital link

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. Originally established in 1960 as the Orkney Islands Shipping Company, the firm was taken over by Orkney Islands Council in 1995 and renamed Orkney Ferries Ltd. Today the company continues to serve the local community, carrying cargo and passengers alike between the Orkney mainland and 13 surrounding island destinations. During 2016 Orkney Ferries transported more than 350,000 passengers and 85,000 vehicles, a steady increase on the 321,000 passengers and 84,000 vehicles carried in the financial year ending March 2015.

Since previously being featured in Shipping & Marine magazine in March 2016, Orkney Ferries has remained focused on delivering a high quality and reliable service to its passengers. “The service is continually looking at optimising routes and service availability to ensure the best options for our isles communities, however this remains a challenge due to budget, infrastructure and vessel constraints. For example, the updating of the fleet used by Orkney Ferries is the subject of a number of high-level discussions with various sectors of government,” explains Andrew Blake, the newly appointed Ferry Services Manager at Orkney Ferries.

Utilising a fleet of nine ferries, Orkney Ferries operates 74 different point-to-point connections across its network and provides more than 20,000 sailings annually. Roro vehicle and passenger ferries include the MV Earl Sigurd, the MV Earl Thorfinn and MV Varagen, which all serve the outer north isles service; also within the fleet are the MV Golden Mariana, which serves the Westray and Papa Westray inter-island service and the MV Graemsay, which serves the south isles on the Graemsay and North Hoy service, both of which are small passenger ferries. Additionally, Orkney Ferries has a small passenger relief vessel, the MV Thorsvoe, and three further roro vehicle and passenger ferries, MV Shapinsay, MV Eynhallow and MV Hoy Head, which operate on the Shapinsay; Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, and south isles service respectively.

Comprised of 70 islands, many of which are uninhabited, Orkney is viewed as the perfect place to unwind and switch off for visitors who want to enjoy wide open spaces and the different islands’ wildlife and breathtaking beauty. Travelling across Orkney also offers visitors the opportunity to take in its Neolithic ancestry, with ancient monuments, stone circles and tombs testament to its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. With a fascinating history that dates back 6000 years, picturesque scenery and a welcoming experience of island life – complete with arts and crafts and music events such as the Orkney Folk Festival – Orkney continues to be a popular destination, particularly during the summer season as well as Christmas and Easter.

Orkney is now the most popular cruise ship destination in the UK, with 110 port calls in 2016 delivering 110,000 passengers and an estimated £5.8 million in economic benefit to the islands. On top of this, the islands are becoming increasingly important as a destination due to the ongoing development of renewable energy solutions such as the Surf ‘n’ Turf project on the island of Eday, which will utilise Eday’s excess of both tidal and wind electricity and convert it into hydrogen. The hydrogen will be stored, shipped to Kirkwall and converted back into electricity, with the aim of providing auxiliary power for ferries tied up at the pier.

While these exciting developments are taking place within Orkney, the ferry operator continues to deliver a vital transport link to both Orkney and the surrounding community, working in close collaboration with the local authority and residents to fully understand and meet the requirements of the local population. As the sole provider of ferry services in the area, the company operates under a service level agreement with Orkney Islands Council, the owner of Orkney Ferries. Due to the integral role it plays in the lives of locals, the company often changes its regular timetable to accommodate people wishing to attend events, as Andrew comments: “We have an events calendar that allows us to make sailing time changes for the bigger events such as the Westray Regatta, County Show and Stromness Shopping Week. This is intended to allow maximum participation at those events, whether they be on the Orkney mainland or in the Isles.”

On top of this, the everyday operations of Orkney Ferries complement the activities of Loganair, a Scottish regional airline, as Andrew explains: “Loganair provides a passenger service to the outer north isles but is unable to manage much freight or any vehicles. The company also has no connectivity with the inner north isles or south isles; as such, Orkney Ferries is a critical component in delivering the lifeline requirements of all Orkney Islands.”

Having recently joined Orkney Ferries as Ferry Services Manager, Andrew will continue to gain a stronger understanding of Orkney Ferries and its interfaces with both the communities and local authority. On top of this, Andrew aims to be part of the team seeking to source funding for Orkney Ferries aging fleet as well as the improvement of systems that will ensure the service is more efficient for passengers in the future. “Over the coming 12 months we want to continue providing a safe and efficient lifeline ferry service for the communities of Orkney within the constraints of an aging fleet and budgets. Looking further ahead, our goal is to support the Orkney Island Council’s priorities of promoting successful, thriving communities and Orkney’s transport networks,” he concludes.

Orkney Ferries
Operate nine dedicated inter-island ferries
Transported more than 350,000 passengers and 85,000 vehicles in 2016
Viewed as a crucial lifeline service for rural communities