Harbour repair hopes are weather depending

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Marooned islanders on Easdale are hoping work will start this week to remove slate and rubble blocking their harbour.

Weather-depending, Argyll and Bute Council was hoping to send over a barge yesterday with excavating equipment to begin the task.

Until the council’s usual ferry service can be resumed, the council had made arrangements for a stand-in boat with a local boat owner and to have a landing craft on standby in case of emergencies.

But it seems the attempt to help stranded islanders did not get everyone’s approval.

Sea tour operator Seafari had loaned its dinghy to Easdale’s ferrymen so people, including the resident doctor, could get off the island for essentials. But the gesture, on what was officially National Random Acts of Kindness Day, was prevented by the Maritime and Coastal Agency.

A copy of an email to Seafari from an official at the MCA and posted on Easdale island Community Facebook page asked the arrangement be stopped and said the vessel being used was believed to be ‘unsuitable’ and could ‘potentially be considered as dangerously unsafe’.

That Facebook post prompted more than 70 comments, including ‘Health & Safety gone to pot’ and ‘Sad times indeed when people are only trying to keep a community functioning’.

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: ‘This is an unique situation where a local business and the council have pulled together to meet the needs of the local community. We are in contact with MCA to explain the seriousness of the situation and need for this temporary solution to prevent the island being cut off.

‘The Seafari vessel is the only one suitable for taking residents from the island to the mainland while the council ferry remains locked within Easdale Harbour. This is not a paid-for service – this is simply an act of community spirit to enable local people to get to work or any other vital appointments. Meantime, weather permitting, our contractor is due to take excavating equipment over by barge  to remove material from the harbour entrance.’

Following the storm damage to the harbour, questions are being asked if something should have been done sooner to strengthen the slate walls. It was about 12 years ago when the harbour was last blocked.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Some people are wondering if what happened should have been foreseen. The two sides of the harbour were  visibly shifting towards each other. I’m not sure if those signs were an opportunity missed.’

The damaged harbour meant one family were not able to return home at the end of their holiday and had to be taken in by friends on the mainland. They have been warned to expect to be away from home for one week.

‘These are pretty extraordinary circumstances but it goes to show just how much of a life-line service our ferry is. Thank goodness for the generosity that has shone through,’ said the mum-of-one.

Councillor Elaine Robertson said the council had been out the week before to assess storm damage to the harbour but weather had deteriorated before repairs could start. She has been told it is being treated as a priority.