MSP questions length of ferry absence

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Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, has written to Caledonian MacBrayne outlining concerns from the community in Uist about the protracted absence of the MV Hebrides from the Uig to Lochmaddy and Tarbert route, and the local feeling that the current replacement vessels this winter are contributing to high levels of cancellations.

Mr Allan commented: “This is the third year in a row that I have taken up concerns about how the route is serviced while the Hebrides is either being refitted or redeployed.

“While in Uist this weekend I spoke to local businesses and passengers about the impact on their day to day lives.

“I think we all understand that some degree of vessel rotation is required while ships have their annual refit.

“However, this year, MV Hebrides has been absent not just for this reason, but also to act as relief vessel on other routes.

“If there is any solution to winter deployment which does not cause the MV Hebrides to be removed from the Uig service, other than for her own maintenance, I believe it is worthy of serious consideration.

“Certainly it would be useful to have assurances about how things will be managed next winter.

“In the meantime the priority has to be addressing the reliability – as much as weather conditions allow – of services between now and the end of February, when MV Hebrides is due to return to the route.

“People in Uist have left me in no doubt about their views on this subject in recent days.

“Of course, in the long term strengthening our ferry fleet is the best thing we can do to improve the reliability of the routes.

“That is why the Scottish Government has invested £97 million in building two new dual-fuel ferries, one of which is being designed specially for the Uig Triangle.

“I look forward to the community being involved fully in the design of that vessel to ensure that the service improves further in the future.”

In answer to the concerns raised a CalMac spokesman said: “The winter annual refit period is always a challenge for us as we do not have like-for-like replacements for every ship and we have to find a way of maintaining services with the resources available to us.

“This requires a complex reshuffle of ships which can mean some vessels being taken off their usual routes but we do try to keep this period to a minimum.

“We recognise this is not ideal but our options are extremely limited and some inconvenience is difficult to avoid and often, regrettably, compounded by cancellations due to extreme adverse weather.”