They have also said that they “don’t know what other operators do” which may seem surprising two years into the pandemic and in the face of evidence that no other ferry company is affected anything like the same extent by Covid cancellations.
Asked for a definition of the rules they operate to, the company replied: “Cancellation of service occurs when we cannot crew our vessels in accordance with maritime legal requirements. The requirement for positive cases and close contacts (that are not fully vaccinated) to isolate has the potential to drop the crewing to the point where a service can no longer be legally sustained.
“This can mean that service is cancelled, even with a single positive case, if the infected person has a critical role such as Master or Chief Engineer. For small ferries that operate on minimum crewing, every positive case suspends the service until a suitable replacement can be sourced”.
Asked what change of guidance would be required in order to remove the need to cancel sailings in the event of a single positive test on board, the company replied: “(That would require) isolation requirements to be suspended or at the very least isolation requirements for not fully vaccinated close contacts to be suspended”.
Asked why CalMac seems to be so disproportionately affected by Covid-related cancellations, the company said: “We don’t know what other operators do, but we follow the government guidance as written and apply this in combination with all other legislation we must adhere to in order to legally put our vessels to sea. We have not included other additional measures in our protocols that go beyond what is advised by Government”.
With concerns mounting that, on top of all the other challenges afflicting CalMac, the Gazette asked whether any contingency plans are being made to avoid these cancellations, given that there is no sign of Covid going away, and the summer season is approaching.
The company replied: "We operate a control centre that manages disruption to our service on a continuous basis. This centre uses well developed plans that ensures as best as possible the continuity of our service throughout the entire network. Overall, we have a finite number of qualified crew that can be deployed onto our fleet, so it is not always possible to maintain service when crew are affected by Covid”.
There has been widespread disappointment over the failure of the Scottish Government, which owns CalMac, to address the specific issue of ferry protocols as other Covid-related restrictions have eased.
Harris-based businessman Jamie McGowan voiced his frustrations on LinkedIn, asking if Covid and crew issues were being used as “a cover” for “the ease of cancellation”.
He added: “The Northern Isles have had no cancellations due to Covid. So can someone please tell me why we are different in the Western Isles”.