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Hamnavoe Sails Short Sea Route Due To Severe Westerly Gale

5th October 2018

Photograph of Hamnavoe Sails Short Sea Route Due To Severe Westerly Gale

Here is a photo of Hamnavoe (02.10.2018, c. 10;30 am) about to 'come to the end' of her unusual route via Pentland Firth's Inner Sound and head generally Northwards past (i.e.the the East of ) the prominently-seen Stroma lighthouse towards Scapa Flow via Hoxa Sound and on from the former towards her destination of Stromness.

Her captain obviously chose this course to attempt to 'steer clear' of the worst of the wild early-Autumn weather during a severe gale from the Westerly airt, that was drawing huge Atlantic Ocean origin swells to the Western approaches of the Pentland.Firth. That's the route where she normally sails, a good 20-odd miles to the West of this picture's location.

Pic by Dunnet & Canisbay CC's Hon. Sec. etc Mr Mark Gibson from his home at East End, John O;Groats.

In severe weather from the (predominant) Westerly direction Hamnavoe usually diverts via Cantick Sound , at least 30 crossings per year (as per today Frid 05.10.18)

Longer-distance Hamnavoe diversions via the Pentland Firth's Inner Sound and the Short Sea Route (as routinely used by Pentalina on a thrice-daily basis) are very much rarer.

This is the first time during Autumn that Hamnavoe is known to have used the Short Sea Route since she went into services 2001.

She has used the short sea route twice in winter since coming into service and on one occasion Summer 2017 in June. when an un-seasonal gale sprung up.

The Srabster to Stromness route to the West of the isle of Hoy is a post-1945 seaway; civilian ferries were (broadly/generally) forbidden to sail through Scapa Flow when its was an active, operational, major RN base during WWII.

Prior to September 1939, the route was to Kirkwall (Scapa Bay Pier) as the then St Ola was a designated 'Royal Mail Streamer'; the official terminus was Kirkwall GPO, as there was a minor subsidy for mail carriage.

In the post-War era c. 1946, 'first-class mails/ posts to Orkney were diverted to air services and Stromness became the main Orkney destination ; Pre-war the services was to Scapa, as stated, with calls at St Margaret's H (no Churchill Barriers then) and Stromness.

Prior to 1940 the St Ola sailed the Inner Sound quite regularly and also diverted to Wick in wild Westerly weather. She was a lift-on, lift-off vessel using on-board derricks as cranes.

Hamnavoe operates at a massive loss that is compensated till Autumn 2019 by UK taxpayers as per a contract with her present operator, Serco NorthLink Ferries Ltd. The amount of subsidy .... approaching c. £80:00 to £100:00 per single passenger fare ... is unpublished, as it is part of a 'bundle' involving Aberdeen-based route to the Northern Islands.

Recently Mr Roy Pedersen, the former HIE transport executive that came up with the concept of Road Equivalent Tariffs in the 1970s, estimated the annual Hamnavoe loss at £10 million; other transport 'experts' have used the yearly loss figure of £8 million.

Serco NorthLink Ferries does/did not supply this ship (and the two broadly similar 8,000 tonne Aberdeen/Orkney & Shetland ROPAX ones ); vessels that were owned until this year by a 'leasing' subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland going back to 'Sir' Fred Goodwin's era.

Nor does Serco NLF own the Caithness deep-water QE Pier at Scrabster. This was designated as being necessary by the Scottish Executive (now Govt) c. 1999/2000 to handle the then-building Hamnavoe , so the costs to Scrabster HT were largely covered by the former.

In contrast, local family-owned Pentland Ferries Ltd, that receives no taxpayers money at all , built the (re-cycled) breakwater/berth at Gills H, and also owns the 2008-built Pentalina .

Her much bigger replacement 85 metre long catamaran Alfred is nearing completion in a SE Asia yard and will be on the short-sea route in 2019. The new vessel will broadly have the same carrying capacity as Hamnavoe.

PFL used a well-publicised commercial bank-loan to pay for the new ship.

Contrary to what was announced in 08.17, RET was NOT offered to Pentland Ferries ... as a subsidy going to passengers .... in time for June 2018.

Instead a 'Farebox' system was proposed to the SMH company.

'Farebox' has not been ... so far at least... tested as being compatible with EU 'state-aid' rules.

A civil servant in the Scottish Government Transport Scotland's ferries unit confirmed that .... if it was found to be non-compliant by the EU ... that PFL would then have to re-pay any passenger fare reductions that had been offered in the meantime.

Mr Andrew Banks MBE, MD of Pentland Ferries Ltd has been calling .... so far unsuccessfully ... for the Scottish Government to cover this risk, that could run into millions of pounds or to offer RET as has cut fares to passengers ... and boosted traffic, especially tourism ... all over Western Highlands and Islands sea-routes.

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