Craignure Pier debacle reaches ‘crisis’ point

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Ferry services to Mull were suspended on Sunday morning when one of the heavy timber fenders, there to absorb the impact of the ferry as it berths, fell off.

This latest development came just 10 days after members of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee were assured by Argyll and Bute Council officers that the Craignure pier was ‘fit for purpose’.

The fendering is designed to withstand heavy impact and and to protect the pier from damage but, despite concerns raised by the committee, the council still insists this most recent occurrence would have no bearing on the safety of the structure.

A council spokesperson said: ‘We apologise for the brief disruption caused to ferry services by a displaced section of timber, which was successfully removed on Sunday morning.

‘We can confirm that this timber section was not an integral part of the pier’s structure, and removing it will have no implications for the use of the pier for scheduled service vessels.’

Service operators were informed and ferry services resumed a short time later but committee members and residents are angry about the apparent lack of attention to the issues.

‘If inspections and repair are so scant that a large section of fendering can simply fall away from the pier under its own weight, what confidence can we have in the rest of it?’ asked Mull and Iona ferry committee chairwoman Elizabeth Ferguson.

‘This incident dramatically demonstrates the poor state of repair and chronic under-investment in Craignure pier, a facility that generates £1.5 million in profit annually, and really does bring into question whether the pier is being adequately maintained.’

In light of Sunday’s incident, the committee is now insisting that the council carries out an urgent independent detailed inspection of all the fendering on the pier, and acts urgently upon whatever recommendations it makes.

This was just the latest in an ongoing saga. At the end of last month the committee expressed shock and disappointment to find that none of the interim improvement options for Craignure pier has been amended to reflect community consultation.

The blow was delivered at a presentation by officers and councillors, accompanied by the head of the ferries unit in Transport Scotland, at a meeting in Craignure with members of the ferry committee, Mull Community Council and Iona Community Council.

The mainland  group arrived on Mull to present the outcomes of the Craignure STAG (Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance) report which explores future options for the pier.

‘All interim options, other than on-going maintenance, were missing entirely from the conclusions of the report,’ said committee spokesperson Joe Reade.

Residents on the islands are concerned that when hull 802, currently in construction, enters service, the MV Hebrides will be freed from the Uig triangle to work alongside the Isle of Mull and, with insufficient berths in Oban, one of the two vessels must berth overnight in Craignure and the pier will be put under even more pressure.

‘The urgent issue – in fact it’s a crisis – is to make modest improvements that will enable the MV Hebrides to operate the route alongside the Isle of Mull when she is available from summer 2021,’ added Mr Reade.

Another meeting is scheduled for the end of the month to address the interim improvement options.