The Stornoway Ullapool Ferry Project Taskforce held their first meeting in Edinburgh last week to discuss the progress of harbour developments.
The ongoing works are holding back the MV Loch Seaforth’s take-over of the Minch route.
Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay, said: “This was an extremely constructive first meeting and I am encouraged by the commitment of all partners to work together and deliver these major infrastructure works.
“Stornoway Port Authority estimate the work required for the berthing of the new vessel will now finish in early February, which will allow Calmac to bring the MV Loch Seaforth into service by the end of February and Ullapool Harbour Trust to go ahead with their linkspan work as planned on April 20th.
“Ultimately, we would like to see the infrastructure works completed and the MV Loch Seaforth fully deployed on the Stornoway-Ullapool route by the end of May, and all the organisations involved have agreed to work towards this target.”
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: “While I welcome the Task Force meeting today, there should only really be one issue to be addressed and that is the postponement of harbour works in Ullapool from the summer period to a quieter period of the year.
“That this should be considered at this time of year is simply not recognising the importance of the tourist season to the islands’ economy.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, and Shadow Minister for Transport and the Islands, David Stewart, and Labour’s general election candidate for the Western Isles, Alasdair Morrison, called on Derek MacKay, to visit the islands to discuss their concerns.
Mr Stewart said: “Local tourism representatives, hauliers and the majority of councillors have all backed this call and even the Minister’s own SNP colleague, Angus MacNeil, has publically backed Alasdair Morrison’s appeal for a summit on this.
“The Minister must listen to the people and come to the islands immediately to learn of the real damage this fiasco will do to the economy of the islands.”
Mr Stewart also expressed concern that CalMac had removed the online booking facility for the Ullapool-Stornoway route for the whole of the summer.
CalMac Managing Director Martin Dorchester said that in light of the Taskforce’s aims, the online booking service was made available again, as of yesterday (Wednesday).
He continued: “The delay to the completion of MV Loch Seaforth and the subsequent delays to the Stornoway Harbour works have been immensely frustrating for everyone and especially for CalMac.
“Everyone should be aware that when she does enter service it will be on a phased basis, shadowing the MV Isle of Lewis until we are absolutely satisfied that all is well.
Addressing the concerns from hauliers Mr Dorchester said there would be ample capacity, with pinch points only on peak sailings at the height of the season.
He continued: “It is also important to stress that this is a temporary closure which will last five weeks.
“It will greatly improve reliability and resilience on this lifeline route for many years to come so is actually a very positive step forward.”