‘CalMac is on its knees’: timetable cut extended as 200 staff hit by Covid

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CalMac is extending its essential services timetable, introduced to cope with Covid-related staff absence, for a further two weeks until at least February 6.

The increasing number of crew on vessels and staff in ports either testing positive, self-isolating or waiting for PCR test results has meant that CalMac is unable to operate to full capacity.

The latest figures show 203 members of staff are unavailable because of Covid, which is an increase of more than 50 staff absent since CalMac introduced the temporary timetable on January 3.

CalMac’s website says it employs 1,000 sea-going crew, running 29 routes to over 50 destinations. Its fleet of 33 vessels complete approximately 136,000 sailings a year, with crossings ranging from five minutes to seven hours.

‘While the total number of sailings has had to be reduced by around 15 per cent, we are still carrying all passengers, cars and commercial traffic who wish to travel,’ a spokesperson said.

‘Our ports at Stornoway, Ullapool, Uig, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale, Castlebay, Armadale, Mallaig, Coll, Tiree, Ardrossan and Brodick will be operating reduced hours focused on sailing times.’

The affected routes include: Oban to Mull, Coll, Tiree and Colonsay; Mallaig to Lochboisdale; and Tarbert (Loch Fyne) to Portavadie.

‘All services, irrespective of timetable or service change, are subject to change, cancellation, or interruption at very short notice,’ CalMac added.

Robbie Drummond, CalMac’s managing director, said: ‘We fully appreciate the difficulties these changes will cause for some of our customers, and we apologise for any disruption to their journeys over the next few weeks. I am very grateful for their continued patience and understanding at a time of intense pressure.

“We will continue to review the temporary timetable and will add services back in as soon as we possibly can, however a return to a full service will require a significant reduction in the level of staff absence. In the meantime, we will continue to operate as flexibly as possible to ensure we restore sailings where and when we can.

‘Community feedback is also important at this time. In response to recent feedback, we altered the temporary timetable on the Portavadie-Tarbert route in Argyll to ensure that local schoolchildren could get home from school. A change we were happy to make for the local community.’

On one island hit by the disruption, Tiree Community Council praised CalMac staff.

‘CalMac are on their knees,’ said treasurer Gerard McGoogan: ‘Please bear with them.’ Community councillor Phyl Meyer agreed: ‘They are doing the best they can.’