Mull ferry group claims trade unions ‘sabotaged’ charter talks

MV Pentalina.
MV Pentalina.

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Plans by state-owned ferry company CalMac to charter the Pentalina from Pentland Ferries have been sabotaged by the RMT and Nautilus trade unions, according to the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee chairman Joe Reade said: ‘The RMT and Nautilus have sabotaged the charter of the Pentalina, and the Scottish Government and CalMac should have the courage to say so.’

According to MIFC the safety concerns expressed by the unions apparently ‘amount to no more than a fridge being removed from a galley’, an issue they say that could be fixed by a joiner in a matter of hours.

But RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has responded to the claim saying the union is ‘proud to have stopped this unsafe vessel from coming onto lifeline routes and to have upheld safety standards for CalMac crew and passengers.’

RMT says it understands communities’ frustration and will continue to call for a ferry summit to solve the crisis.

Micky Smyth, head of industrial for Nautilus said he disagreed with Mr Reade’s claim that the issue was merely a fridge being removed and that it could be repaired by a joiner in a matter of hours. He also applauded the efforts of RMT in highlighting the safety concerns verified by the Marine Coastal Agency, which stated discrepancies were uncovered with respect to structural fire protection in way of the passenger accommodation and the corridor providing access to the crew accommodation and Galley Servery on the Pentalina.

‘Nautilus are very supportive in all attempts to improve services to provide a lifeline service throughout the CalMac network. However, all operations need to be safe and Nautilus will never compromise on safety,’ added Mr Smyth.

Nautilus says any vessel chartered into the CalMac fleet will need to be covered by its collective bargaining agreement.

MIFC is also calling for action from the Scottish Government and wants it to give urgent consideration to the acquisition of a new catamaran which is nearing completion at a Singapore-managed shipyard.

The catamaran, which exceeds Maritime and Costguard Agency safety requirements and would cost around £12million which MIFC says compares favourably with the current cost attributed to the two incomplete ferries at the Scottish Government’s Ferguson Marine yard on the Clyde.

‘The Scottish Government should pay close attention to what is going on here and resolve the issue – either by making sure the Pentalina is chartered or a replacement vessel is acquired,’ said MIFC chairman Mr Reade.

When Pentland Ferries announced it was withdrawing from talks with CalMac over the MV Pentalina, it said in an official statement: ‘We cannot commit to a scenario whereby external factors have the potential to cause severe risk and reputational damage to the business that we have worked so hard to build.’

MIFC says the people attempting to damage the reputation of Pentland Ferries are the unions.

Moray Finch of the Mull and Iona Community Trust said: ‘CalMac were in the process of discussing potential timetables with the community, which would have delivered significant improvements to the main service to Mull, particularly in the winter. Those conversations were positive – extra sailings would have been introduced, earlier and later in the day, offering better public transport connections and a more reliable service for the people of our islands, particularly children going to and from school.

‘However, the RMT has deliberately obstructed those improvements to the lives of our people and it is high time the Scottish Government put the needs of the people it serves ahead of powerful vested interests who simply do not care about the customers.’

CalMac did not have any further comment to make on the matter in this instance.