A return to timetable… for the moment at least

A calm has descended on the islands’ ferry chaos with all CalMac services running to timetable as we went to press. However, the major outstanding issues remain unaddressed.
The MV Isle of Mull was sent to cover for the MV Hebrides.The MV Isle of Mull was sent to cover for the MV Hebrides.
The MV Isle of Mull was sent to cover for the MV Hebrides.

Two months before the winter timetable takes effect and Uig in Skye closes, there has been no movement on mitigation measures or on the critical demand for the Scottish Government to allow CalMac to lease a vessel, to improve resilience in the ageing fleet.

There was a meeting on Monday involving local authorities and community groups, chaired by the SNP transport minister, Jenny Gilruth. However Comhairle nan Eilean Siar transportation chairman, Uisdean Robertson, said: “We are still in the same place. We go from meeting to meeting but nothing much comes out of them.

“We got a couple of presentations – one from Highland Council about the work at Uig. They are not keen on night working because it would be met with resistance in Uig. CalMac spoke about their mitigation measures but there was nothing we found palatable”

He said the question of leasing the ‘Arrow’ or ‘Pentalina’ was raised but without any positive response. “It is all pretty frustrating. We are now two months away. The warning signs are all there but there does not seem to be any sense of urgency or the scale of the problem”.

Alasdair Allan MSP, who has faced increasing criticism, said he had written to the Transport Minister saying that “as a matter of priority, we now need to try to shorten the time that services to Lochmaddy and Tarbert will be disrupted by the Uig closure if that is humanly possible. Meanwhile mitigations need to be put in place in terms of extra capacity on other routes”

He said he had been ‘inundated with correspondence from constituents, organisations, businesses and visitors who are angry, frustrated and discouraged at the seemingly endless turmoil caused by technical breakdowns in our fleet”.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the decision to redeploy the MV ‘Isle of Mull’ to the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle last week was taken only in response to a plea from Uisdean Robertson.

CalMac managing director, Robbie Drummond, told Mr Robertson last Wednesday mornning: “ I accept you do not like our decision making which I can understand, but we have reviewed all the options in full and there are no simple or good ones”

Mr Robertson responded that this was “simply not acceptable” when there were “other options available … Nearly 2000 lost car spaces for the Western Isles already and counting. What is not being counted but I am hearing all about are the societal and economic impacts!”.

One option he put to Mr Drummond was to “redeploy Coruisk to the Craignure service with MV Isle of Mull redeployed to the Little Minch on the normal Hebrides timetable”

This was acceded to by CalMac, although the ‘Isle of Mull’ also suffered cancellations as she is not licensed for more severe Outer Isles weather conditions.

The ‘Isle of Mull’ returned to Oban on Monday with CalMac offering a unique opportunity to opt for a sailing between Tarbert and Oban. In another measure to clear traffic, CalMac laid on late Saturday night/Sunday morning sailings between Stornoway and Ullapool.