CalMac cancellations – guidance is vague

Caledonian MacBrayne services were in further disarray this week as single cases of Covid 19 among crews led to wholesale cancellations of services and pressures on crew replacements.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 10:58 am
Is it sustainable for CalMac to continue to cancel services even when one crew member contracts Covid?
Is it sustainable for CalMac to continue to cancel services even when one crew member contracts Covid?

Five crossings on the Stornoway-Ullapool route were lost over Sunday and Monday after one crew member tested positive. As we went to press on Wednesday, at least five CalMac routes were subject to severe disruption.

After readers contacted the Gazette to express concerns that this response was disproportionate and is not in line with other UK ferry operators, we asked CalMac to explain the basis of their policy, which involves deep cleaning of the whole vessel and complete crew changes.

However, the company’s bland reply was: “We, like many sectors, are seeing an increased impact of Covid. We continue to follow government guidance and health and safety protocols for the protection of customers and our staff.”

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We replied that this was a “really poor response” which failed to address the questions asked or provide any detail of the guidance referred to. We then asked: “Is there Scottish Government guidance specific to ferries? Is so, what is it? Where can the public find it?”

The Gazette also asked: “Is there any limit to the policy of aborting services as soon as one case of Covid is found – and have you asked the Scottish Government for any updated guidance in the light of this latest episode and ‘an increased impact of Covid’?”

Once again, the response contained no detail on the guidance referred to or direct answers to the specific questions asked. It merely stated: “We follow Scottish Government guidance to ensure the public health of the travelling public and staff. We are continually reviewing health and safety protocols”.

The Gazette also asked the Scottish Government if they could point us towards any guidance applicable to ferry operators and if there were any plans to update it in the light of increased case numbers, resulting in more cancellations on CalMac routes. We had not received a reply at time of going to press.

Our own research suggests that the only published guidance is to transport operators in general who are then left to make their own decisions about how they should apply broad principles of regard for public health and workforce safety.

It states: “The guidance is not mode specific as there are so many variables between individual transport modes and within each mode. Accordingly, each transport operator should translate the principles and examples in this guidance into specific actions pertinent to their operations”.

Given the rapid spread of the omicron variant, it is statistically likely that any CalMac ferry with 150 people on board will be carrying at least one positive case. However, there is no testing of passengers though they are advised to self-test before travelling

The guidance states: “This is a voluntary scheme and you will not need evidence of a negative test to travel to a Scottish island. However, we encourage you to participate in order to reduce the risk that you inadvertently carry coronavirus into one of our island communities”.