Scotland’s transport minister has called for an investigation into the running aground of a ferry on Orkney to be completed “sooner rather than later”.
Smoke was detected in the engine room of the MV Pentalina on Saturday night before it became grounded near the village of St Margaret’s Hope on the island, leading to the evacuation of 60 passengers, including three children and an infant.
Helen Inkster, managing director of operator Pentland Ferries, said all passengers were “safe and well” when they were evacuated, with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) conducting a survey before the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) are expected on Tuesday.
Initial reports suggest the ferry suffered from a “sudden mechanical failure”, according to the MCA.
Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Scottish transport minister Kevin Stewart said: “Obviously this is a UK reserved matter, the MAIB look at any situation that has occurred aboard vessels, any accident, and I’m quite sure that they will report back to the MCA around about their findings.”
Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, he added: “This is obviously of great interest, not only to (the MCA and MAIB), but to the Scottish Government, the likes of Orkney Islands Council and others.
“We have to get to the bottom of what happened here and I hope that happens sooner rather than later.”
Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur – who represents Orkney – said earlier in the same programme that local rumours suggested pressure had been applied to the MCA to deliver a safety certificate to the vessel so another that was previously on the route – the MV Alfred – could be leased to Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac.
Stewart said: “I’m not aware of any pressure that has been put on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and I don’t think it would be the kind of organisation that could be pressurised. to be honest with you.”
Speaking about the impact of the accident on the route, while the Pentalina is out of service Stewart said that – as of Monday – Northlink Ferries’ summer timetable will be running, including three daily sailings between Scrabster and Stromness.
Also on the same programme, Scottish Tory transport spokesman Graeme Simpson called for an investigation into why the safety certificate was given to the Pentalina just weeks before it ran aground.
“I’m on the same page as the RMT on this,” he said.
“There needs to be a full investigation into what’s gone on, why was that vessel given approval, only to then break down?”
Stewart also conceded the fraught ferry situation facing island communities is “not brilliant”.
Asked by the BBC if the root of the problems with ferries lies in the handling of Ferguson Marine, transport minister Kevin Stewart said: “The Ferguson situation has not helped in terms of the situation we’re facing just now.
“But we have got six ferries that will be coming online soon.
“And that is required to ensure that our islands are well connected.
“What we have at the moment is not brilliant for many islanders.”
Pushed on whether his comments were “an understatement”, Mr Stewart went further, saying it is “not good at all” and that he has “spent all of my time almost since I’ve taken up this post to make sure that resilience is there”.
He added: “We have to do better at this, I recognise that. That is why we’re investing £600 million in new ferries, to ensure that we get this right for islanders.”