MV Loch Seaforth may not be in service until late summer, it has been confirmed, and there are growing concerns over the official timetable.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have contacted the route operator, Caledonian MacBrayne as they have not yet been consulted on a summer timetable.
And with only months to go before the vessel is expected to begin service, the council is also concerned that the MV Loch Seaforth may not offer any more sailings than are currently provided by MV Isle of Lewis and the freight service.
Chief Executive of the Comhairle Malcolm Burr has written to Calmac to ask for further details of the timetabling plans but he has so far received no response.
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), who commissioned the £40million vessel on behalf of the Scottish Government, also confirmed this week the arrival of the vessel had been set back a month due to bad weather causing disruption at the shipyard.
They said: “The ferry is due to be delivered by the shipyard in July, which is slightly delayed due to a storm which held up some work in the shipyard.”
They continued: “After this, there will be some time spent testing the vessel and familiarising the crew, which will take place partly on the route and partly near the shipyard.”
A spokesperson for Calmac said that MV Seaforth was required to undertake sea trials and to get the appropriate certificates before she could enter service.
This was expected to take around three weeks, but she would not be put into service until she was ready.
CMAL have already committed to the retention of MV Isle of Lewis on this route for the foreseeable future and there is also the possibility that MV Clipper Ranger could be retained if it was funded by the Scottish Government.
MV Loch Seaforth will be launched in mid March but work will only then begin on the interior design of the vessel.
Local councillors have been receiving much correspondence from their constituents on the future of the service, as the public are expecting a new, improved ferry service to begin this summer.
Convener of the Comhairle Norman A MacDonald told the Gazette there had been no official word from Calmac or Transport Scotland on what the timetable for the new ferry would be, but the indications they had had were that it ‘might not be as good as it had been for the last three summers’.
On the specific timetable for the new ferry, a spokesperson for Calmac said: “No decisions have been taken on timetables, which are a matter for the operator to agree with Transport Scotland following appropriate local consultations and it would therefore be premature to discuss these outwith the formal consultation process.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said they could not comment until they received a proposal from the ferry operator.
The Calmac website is currently allowing bookings for traffic on the Stornoway-Ullapool route based on last year’s summer timetable until September 7th which is usually the end of the extra peak sailings period.
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said:“Everyone on the islands is keen to ensure that the maximum use is made of the new vessel and to deal with the bottleneck that there is, particularly in the summer months.
“I have asked Calmac and the Transport Minister for details of the number of runs the Loch Seaforth will made per day and what they will do to ensure that that demand is met.”