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Leaders at Western Isles Council – Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – have described CalMac’s ferry services as ‘unacceptably poor’ and are calling on parliamentary candidates to outline their plans for improvements.
Growing demand for action came this week following the news that MV Loch Seaforth, CalMac’s largest ferry, which operates between Ullapool and Stornoway, had been taken into dry dock for ‘major’ engine repairs, the latest of a number of issues to have affected the service, preventing island businesses from essential travel.
Comhairle’s chairman of transportation and infrastructure Councillor Uisdean Robertson said: ‘The failure of CalMac to provide an adequate ferry service to our islands is continuing to put our communities at a disadvantage.
‘This is unacceptable and not enough has been done to address the problem. The poor service and inadequate ferry provision has seriously affected our islands over the last few months, particularly in Barra and South Uist where the service has been unacceptable.
‘Many island businesses have been negatively affected and been asked to travel to Tarbert to make their way to Skye. It seems only fair that CalMac compensate these companies for the additional costs that they have no choice but to pay as a result of this service problem.’
Councillor Robertson suggested that in the short term MV Pentalina should be chartered to provide the overnight freight service to Stornoway, with the MV Isle of Lewis making up for lost capacity by sailing three times a day in the daytime.
‘Once MV Loch Seaforth returns, MV Pentalina should be retained for the Mull route leaving MV Isle of Mull as second ship on the route and available to cover other routes in the event of technical problems elsewhere on the network,’ he added.
On Tuesday this week, however, CalMac announced that the MV Isle of Arran would be temporarily taking over the overnight freight run on the Stornoway-Ullapool route from Wednesday April 21, with additional movement and suspension of vessels sailing to and from Brodick, Ardrossan, Claonaig, Lochranza and Campbeltown.
MV Isle of Lewis will continue to operate the day services.
CalMac added that ‘specialist engineers are currently working on the Loch Seaforth engines in Greenock and she will be back in service as soon as possible’.
Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: ‘It is vital that a freight service is provided on the Stornoway-Ullapool route and movement of vessels is necessary to provide this.
‘This situation is far from ideal, and we apologise for how these changes will affect passengers.’
The ferry operator also stated that it had explored the possibility of hiring a vessel on a temporary basis but that ‘none are available at short notice’. This includes the Pentalina, which is not going to be free for a number of weeks.