The Scottish Government has bought the two freight ferries that serve the lifeline northern isles network.
Although the price paid for the MV Helliar and MV Hildasay was withheld on grounds of “commercial confidentiality”, Energy, Connectivity and Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse said their acquisition would bring “savings to the public purse”.
The deal means all NorthLink vessels on routes connecting Lerwick, Kirkwall and Aberdeen are under public ownership, following the purchase last year of three passenger ferries.
Chartered for almost 10 years from investment group Fortress, the Helliar and Hildasay are now part of the Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) fleet.
Mr Wheelhouse said: “Our ferry services are transport links that play a vital role for our island economies, so it’s important that we secure the two freight ferries for the future. Purchasing the vessels outright will also bring financial benefits by delivering savings to the public purse over the longer term. Making sure these lifeline transport links continue to support the communities and businesses they serve and deliver best value for taxpayers’ money remains at the heart of our ferry operations.”
CMAL chief executive Kevin Hobbs said the deal strengthens ferry provision for the northern isles.
Current operator Serco NorthLink, CalMac Ferries and Forde Reederei Seetouristik are bidding for the next £370 million, eight-year contract for the northern isles ferry service, due to start in late October.