Serco NorthLink Ferries: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

  1. Please clarify whether you are responsible for answering FOI requests relating to the contract carried out by Serco Northlink Ferries for the service between Aberdeen and Orkney and Shetland. If you are not, please state which public body is responsible.
  2. With reference to the ferry service carried out by Serco Northlink Ferries between Aberdeen and Orkney and Shetland (hereafter referred to as "the service", please answer the following questions:
  3. What are the reasons that the practice of booking shared cabins has been ceased? If there are several reasons, please list them all. If one or more of the reasons are due to primary or secondary legislation, please list the primary and secondary legislation relevant, along with the relevant sections and sub-sections.
  4. Please identify whether legal advice has been taken in order to change the policy on cabin bookings, and if so, whether this legal advice is internal, external and whether or not Counsel's opinion has been sought.
  5. With regards to the following specific situations, please clarify whether legal advice has been sought, which legislation permits it, and whether it is likely to inform future policy: (i) The practice experienced by some travellers of being shaken awake and shouted at by crew members of the boats when sleeping on the floor of the boat due to lack of cabin availability on the overnight crossing. Has Transport Scotland considered the risk that this may constitute an assault? (ii) The rumoured practice influencing the behaviour of some travellers that they may be banned from travelling on the public service operated by SERCO on this route if they complain in terms of the Articles 6, 10 and 13? (iii) (a) The practice experienced by some travellers of being informed that they are not permitted to sleep lying down on the floor to sleep on the overnight crossing when there is insufficient cabin capacity in terms of the ECHR Article 14, as this may affect disabled persons in a discriminatory manner? (b) Is it the policy of Transport Scotland that the sleeping position of people onboard an overnight lifeline ferry service should be dictated by the State?
  6. Why has SERCO continued policies introduced during the Covid lockdowns when the derogations available under Article 15 of the ECHR no longer apply? Please identify the risks that the policies are attempting to ameliorate clearly and with specification of the reasons behind  them.
  7. Does Transport Scotland consider that the lack of cabin provision on a lifeline overnight ferry service to a part of the British Isles is adequate considering that people, particularly those who are travelling with young children, the elderly, disabled persons and those travelling for the purpose of accessing NHS assessments and treatment not available on the islands, in terms of modern standards of expectation of civilised transportation? Please explain why the contract specifications with SERCO did not pay due relevance to the above reasonably foreseeable problems.


1. Transport Scotland would be responsible for responding to some requests for information about the Serco Northlink Ferries (SNF) service between Aberdeen and Orkney and Shetland to the extent to which Transport Scotland holds the information. However, for operational matters it would be SNF who are responsible. Your request mostly relates to operational matters which would be for SNF to respond.

3. SNF took the operational decision to cease offering shared cabins. Although they advised us of this, that was their decision, which they are entitled to do under the contract and Transport Scotland don’t have responsibility for most operational matters.

7. Passenger numbers have increased since the contract was introduced in 2020, particularly since Covid restrictions were lifted. Transport Scotland have acknowledged there are constraints on cabin availability on some sailings during the peak season and are considering options around future vessel replacement to enhance these facilities. The vessels have as many cabins as vessels of that nature are allowed under Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) regulations.

For your questions numbered 4 - 6,The Scottish Government does not have the information you have asked for because the Scottish Government is not responsible for the subject. These areas are primarily operational matters and Serco NorthLink Ferries may be better placed to provide the information and responses you are looking for.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

However, you may wish to contact Serco NorthLink Ferries at via or email who may be able to help you.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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