A shortlist of companies bidding for the Northern Isles ferry services contract has been announced.
Six companies are competing to carry out the vital ferry service in the north of Scotland from 2012 to 2018 after the current contract ends in July next year.
Keith Brown, Minister for Housing and Transport, said: "We are working to deliver the best possible ferry services for communities in the Northern Isles and are on target to renew this contract next year.
"I’m delighted we’ve reached another milestone in delivering a new contract which will continue to support the lifeline ferry services to the Northern Isles, meeting the needs of the Orkney and Shetland communities.
"A community consultation was carried out in the early stages of the process which has helped us to ensure the successful bidder will deliver what the users of the Northern Isles ferry services want and need out of their service."
Companies competing for both the Scrabster to Stromness route and Aberdeen to Lerwick service are NorthLink Ferries Ltd; P&O Ferries Holdings ; Serco Ltd and Shetland Line.
Pentland Ferries Ltd wants to run only the Scrabster to Stromness service while Sea-Cargo A/S is competing to run ferries from Aberdeen to Lerwick.