’40 people slept in their cars’ after fault removed Islay ferry

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A fault in the CO2 firefighting system aboard the MV Hebrides, which removed it from the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert route on Tuesday last week, left the Isle of Islay with only a single ferry.

The island’s ferry committee said Islay has become ‘the soft option for removing a vessel in times of trouble again’, with five sailings cancelled on one day, at the busiest time of year.

Its secretary Jim Porteous said: ‘We are hearing that as a consequence more than 40 people slept in their cars overnight on Wednesday/Thursday, and even on Friday (July 29), as at 10.30am, there are 42 cars and one artic in the standby queue for the 3.30pm exiting Port Askaig.’

The MV Hebridean Isles, which usually serves Islay alongside the MV Finlaggan, was re-deployed to the Skye-Outer Hebrides route on Tuesday July 26, beginning with a 4.30pm sailing from Oban to Lochmaddy.

‘A lack of replacement vessels will result in Islay temporarily going down to a one-vessel service,’ a CalMac spokesperson said.

‘The fault with the CO2 system on MV Hebrides is a safety issue and means she cannot legally operate until this is fixed.’

On Wednesday, the 8.45pm Port Askaig to Kennacraig sailing was cancelled, followed by five more on Thursday: those departing Kennacraig at 7am, 1pm and 6pm and Port Ellen at 9.45am and 3.30pm.

‘Surely this Finlaggan timetable can’t be right?’ the secretary of Islay Community Council Ferry Committee, Jim Porteous, asked CalMac.

‘A normal single vessel timetable would have at least an extra sailing for the single vessel. This one doesn’t even provide that. It simply cancels all Hebridean Isles sailings and leaves Finlaggan as was.

‘Are you really cutting all the Hebridean Isles sailings and not giving Finlaggan at least one extra?

‘Potentially we could be looking at cancelling or shortshipping well over 100 vehicle bookings for the five Hebridean Isles sailings [on Thursday].

‘Has Islay become the soft option for removing a vessel in times of trouble again?

‘Surely an alternative less disruptive option could be found in the north, looking at recent acquisition of Loch Frisa, freeing up of Coruisk and deployment of LOTI?’

Removing an Islay vessel, he added, ‘during the busiest time of year is unquestionably a backwards step. It also yet again raises the competence of drydock work – should the vessel’s firefighting system not be thoroughly checked during drydocking and made good for at least a year?

‘We have a ‘short life special committee’ to look for ways of increasing Islay route capacity, as we have all recognised that even with two ships there is currently a shortfall. The committee includes Transport Scotland.

‘So far we have seen no positive outcomes from these meetings and one of the key features, loss of space due to mismanagement of block bookings, has become worse despite all the assurances.

‘What credibility does this committee have if you are willing to simply remove a vessel – with no compensatory measures when another breaks down?

‘Please can you tell us what measures you can implement to prevent future damaging of Islay route capacity like this to provide relief in the Uig triangle when similar circumstances arise.’

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: ‘Disrupting services is a decision we do not take lightly, but as this was a safety matter, we had no choice but to remove the vessel from service. We fully understand how this affects our customers and the communities we serve.

‘We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused and our team is working hard to bring MV Hebrides back into service as soon as possible and return all vessels to their normal timetabled services.’

Repairs to the MV Hebrides were completed on Friday July 29, when the MV Hebrides Isles returned to the Islay service.