As second fault strikes MV Hebrides, Ileachs warn CalMac: ‘Hands off our ferry’

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The CalMac ferry MV Hebrides was withdrawn from serving Tarbert, Lochmaddy and Uig again on Tuesday, after another fault in its fighfighting system was found, just days after the last one was fixed.

CalMac cancelled Uig-Tarbert-Uig services on Wednesday and Thursday, August 3 & 4, and gave The MV Lord of the Isles additional Lochboisdale-Armadale-Lochboisdale sailings on Wednesday and Thursday. All traffic has managed to be accommodated.

MV Hebrides departed Lochmaddy to sail to the Dales yard in Greenock, and work was set to start on Wednesday morning.

The MV Hebrides only recently returned to service on Friday July 29 after undergoing repairs to her CO2 firefighting system.

One of Islay’s two ferries, the MV Hebridean Isles, was diverted to the ‘Uig Triangle’ on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week, cancelling half of the island’s lifeline services to the mainland.

The Oban Times understands 40 people slept in the cars on Wednesday night and Thursday morning as a consequence.

Following a second fault in the MV Hebrides’ firefighting system in as many weeks, Islay Community Council’s Ferry Committee have told CalMac to keep their ‘hands of the Hebridean Isles’.

‘After the fiasco here last Thursday/Friday when the Hebridean Isles was removed, we have warned CalMac that there would be a public outcry if they were to even consider doing this to us again,’ the ferry group’s secretary Jim Porteous said.

‘The answer should never be simply to remove an Islay vessel and at minimal notice cancel the majority of its bookings so it can relieve elsewhere. There is a significant capacity issue at peak times even with two vessels.’

On Tuesday, CalMac confirmed: ‘All options for a relief vessel have been explored and vessels across the rest of the CalMac network will remain on their timetabled routes for the current time.’

Meanwhile in the Outer Hebrides, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has called for compensation for island communities impacted by ferry cancellations due to technical issues.

Dr Allan said: ‘This is the height of the tourist season. For communities in Harris and Uist to be facing this level of disruption right now is simply inexcusable. I have been inundated with messages from islanders who are, quite frankly, fed up. It’s not good enough for people trying to go about their day to day lives and it’s having a real impact on local businesses.

‘I have asked the Scottish Government to implement a compensation scheme which would utilise the financial penalties it receives for service loss, due to technical failures, redeployment or other avoidable cancellation, across the CalMac network. These funds, totalling around £3.5m for cancellations since 2021, should be diverted to island businesses in the form of a compensation for losses incurred.

‘The only way to properly address these issues in the long term is to get more ships into CalMac’s fleet. There are more vessels in the pipeline, but in the here and now the reliability of the service desperately needs to improve.’

Robbie Drummond, CalMac’s managing director, said: ‘Customers will understandably be upset about this latest disruption to their journeys, and I am deeply sorry for what they are going through. Moving them onto other routes is far from ideal but without a spare vessel, this is the best option we have available.

‘We will find out what is causing this malfunction and get it fixed properly by a specialist team.

‘I would like to thank customers, including hauliers and businesses who have agreed to move bookings, for their patience and support at this very difficult time.

‘While we know this process is time consuming and frustrating for customers, our staff are doing their very best to help and should not be subjected to aggression or violent behaviour.’