Tendering process for the next Northern Isles ferry contract gets under way next month.
According to Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, the procurement process for routes between mainland Scotland, Orkney and Shetland would start in June.
The contract is due to be awarded in summer next year.
Image: Port of Lerwick (Shetland Island, Scotland)
Mr Yousaf added that local communities had made it clear they wanted the contract to be put out to tender.
Ministers awarded a 6-year contract to Serco in 2012.
While ferry companies will have to bid for the routes to Shetland and Orkney, Mr Yousaf said that he still planned on giving the next contract for Clyde and Hebrides services direct to state-owned CalMac.