Call for ‘urgent summit’ as Mull ferry returns

Ferry services have been under the spotlight this summer.

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Long-standing concerns about the resilience of local ferry services have blown up again after the sudden withdrawal of the Isle of Mull’s second vessel.

The MV Coruisk, which can take up to 40 cars and 250 passengers, was taken off schedules due to an engine problem, with the smaller 35-year-old Loch Linnhe drafted in as a relief vessel by CalMac, but only capable of transporting 12 vehicles.

It saw cancelled services and meant the bulk of those who would have used the MV Coruisk having to go overland via Corran Ferry, through Lochaline to Fishnish to catch that ferry.

By today (Friday July 16), the MV Coruisk was back in service after the problem with the engine propulsion management system was fixed, said CalMac.

But the incident follows hard on the heels a fortnight ago of Pentland Ferries withdrawing from talks over the use of the MV Pentalina catamaran as a back-up.

Occurring at the height of summer, it also came at the worst possible time for islanders with tourists back en masse and a squeeze for spaces on services.

Campaigners have called the stop-start situation a ‘crisis,’ with opposition politicians blaming the Scottish Government and the RMT union calling for an urgent summit

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee has cited ‘numerous instances’ of farmers unable to get stock to market, mourners being unable to attend a funeral, and a patient returning home to the islands having to be brought in by helicopter because there was no space on the ferry for an ambulance.

Joe Reade, committee chairman, said: ‘This can’t go on for much longer. Additional ferries need to be brought into the fleet urgently, whilst we wait patiently for Ferguson’s to complete the two ferries that should have been delivered three years ago.

‘The islands are suffering, and urgent action is needed.’

Robert Morrison, operations director, said the problem with the engine meant it had to withdraw the MV Coriusk from the Oban-Craignure route.

CalMac was ‘conscious’ of the impact of the ‘continuing service issue’ and how difficult it made it for some customers, he said.

But Donald Cameron, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said ministers had been ‘repeatedly warned’ about the ageing ferry fleet and the breakdown risk.

‘Frankly this amounts to a failure in their duty of care to our most fragile rural communities which are totally dependent on a resilient and reliable ferry service,’ he said.

Gordon Martin, regional organiser for the RMT, said the situation was ‘100 per cent due to the abject failure’ to deliver a ferry procurement plan.

Mr Martin said: ‘This has now led to the perfect storm situation we now have with a total lack of resilience to any breakdowns or other issues leaving the west coast ferry user in a position which is quite frankly unacceptable in Scotland in 2021.’

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: ‘Whilst the management and maintenance of the vessels is an operational issue for CalMac, we recognise communities’ frustration at the disruption and the impact it is having. The minister for transport is given regular updates on the performance of the Clyde and Hebrides network, including the current challenges faced by users of the Mull-Iona ferry service.