The Hamnavoe, Hrossey and Hjaltland had previously been chartered by Transport Scotland from Royal Bank of Scotland and operated by transport provider Serco under the NorthLink Ferries brand.
They will now will be taken into the ownership of Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the Scottish state-owned enterprise that owns ports, vessels and other maritime assets.
An 18-month extension to the current Northern Isles ferry contract has also been agreed, meaning Serco NorthLink Ferries will continue to operate the services until 31 October 2019. NorthLink’s managing director Stuart Garrett said: “We are pleased to have been awarded this contract extension and we will be working closely with the Scottish government and CMAL as the ownership of the passenger vessels is transferred.
The 18-month contract extension has a value to Serco of approximately £104 million. Serco was awarded the original contract, which had an initial six-year period valued at £350 million by Transport Scotland in 2012 following a competitive process. Since Serco took over the management of NorthLink Ferries, the services have seen an 8% increase in the number of passengers carried, bringing the total to more than 1.7 million, as well as carrying 20% more vehicles since the start of the contract.
The service contract is set to go out to tender again next summer after the Scottish government decided against taking it in-house. Transport and islands minister Humza Yousaf said: “We have always said we would take the views of the local community into account when it came to the procurement of the next Northern Isles ferry services contract.