Arrow deployment fails to hit the mark
Any expectation that the introduction of the freight vessel ‘Arrow’ to the Stornoway-Ullapool route might be greeted with relief and delight have been quickly dashed.
As the Gazette reported two weeks ago, the Scottish Government has finally allowed a freight vessel to be chartered – three years after turning down calls for the Arrow’s sister vessel, Clipper Ranger, to be brought in for that purpose.
However, the terms of the Arrow’s engagement have caused bemusement to freight operators and confusion among passengers. On five days a week, the Arrow’s overnight crossing will not be In addition to existing services but as a replacement.
Only on Mondays and Fridays will the Loch Seaforth continue to operate its standard three return crossings. On the other days, she will sit at Stornoway rather than undertake a late crossing.
Furthermore, the Arrow’s presence on the Stornoway-Ullapool route is extremely short term and she will depart on September 7th.
Transport Minister Graeme Dey – who has refused to meet the local authority who were not consulted on the timetable - said: “The charter of the MV Arrow means we will see more services between Stornoway and Ullapool, as we look to help Lewis and Harris emerge from the Covid pandemic.
“It will bring additional capacity to this key route during the busy summer period, by allowing Cal Mac to free up the Loch Seaforth to let more passengers and their vehicles travel. It will also increase freight capacity.”
Robert Morrison, operations director for Cal Mac, said “The chartering of the MV Arrow will help provide much-needed resilience at a time when Covid restrictions remain in place and there is high demand for spaces on board our ferries.”
Mr Morrison claimed that her deployment will bring around 14 per cent additional vehicle deck capacity for cars and passengers and over 50 per cent additional freight capacity for hauliers.
However, local hauliers were extremely sceptical about the arrangements.
CalMac’s biggest client, D.R. MacLeod of Stornoway, said on Tuesday: “What our customers want is certainty and this certainly isn’t going to provide it. The timetable was basically foisted upon us without consultation.
“This morning, the Arrow came in at 8.30am. The Loch Seaforth would have been in at 6am .
"The knock-on effect, not just for our big supermarket customers but all over the island, is significant. Then it is going to be stop-start and some other arrangement”.
David Wood, of island hauliers Woody’s, said: “What has emerged bears no relation to what we discussed with them.
"Basically, we thought there were going to be four return crossings a day instead of three and that would have been fine. But what they have introduced is not much good to us and not much good to passengers”.
The major problem about passenger numbers remains unaddressed as the Scottish Government is continuing to insist on a 35 per cent limit on capacity due to Covid restrictions though this is far more onerous than applied by other ferry companies.