Ferries in chaos with the threat of worse to come

The emergency services were called to Uig pier after the MV Hebrides developed an engine fire.The emergency services were called to Uig pier after the MV Hebrides developed an engine fire.
The emergency services were called to Uig pier after the MV Hebrides developed an engine fire.
Ferry services on the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy triangle continued to be in a state of chaos on Wednesday following an extraordinary sequence of events over the past week.

As we went to press, CalMac issued a public statement which confirmed the full extent of damage that will be caused to Uist in particular – but also reflecting the wider reality that the network is on a precipice due to the lack of resilience within it.

CalMac said: “Services between Mallaig/Oban and Lochboisdale will be cancelled between 5 April-13 May due to the need to re-deploy vessels elsewhere on the network while we continue to manage the delays experienced in vessel overhaul and additional technical issues within the fleet.

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“To provide a connection for Uist traffic, we will be offering additional daily services to the Sound of Barra”.

The statement essentially confirmed that, with the withdrawal of MV Hebrides following a fire in her engine room on Tuesday, CalMac have run out of options due to the shortage of vessels.

Uist haulier D. J. Buchanan told the Gazette: “We are on our knees, not just as hauliers but as a community. Everywhere we turn, there is something else to hit us”.

On Wednesday, services between Uig and Tarbert were cancelled “due to an ongoing tech issue as a result of an overheating electrical component resulting in smoke in the engine room, MV Hebrides remains off service”.

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Subsequently, after a further review, all the Uig-Lochmaddy services were also cancelled with no further update promised until 5 p.m. (today) Thursday.

Meanwhile, Uist’s other link with the mainland, Oban-Lochboisdale, was cancelled due to an “adverse weather forecast”.

The most recent sequence of events began last Thursday evening when, at 5.30 p.m., CalMac had to tell customers that Uig pier would not re-open as planned the following morning due to the work being incomplete.

After a day of cancellations and diversions, Lochmaddy traffic was diverted back to Ullapool but then the MV Hebrides was detained in port due to engine trouble.

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The Uig services were due to resume on Tuesday but no sooner had they done so than the fire alert was raised in the engine room and the vessel had to return to port.

However even this sequence of events has now been overtaken in terms of the wider threat to the islands economy.

The CalMac statement on Wednesday revealed a series of makeshift alterations to its timetable over the coming weeks and months which will continue to rely on the ailing, ageing fleet.

A press release issued as we went to press yesterday (Wednesday) said: “CalMac has announced updates to routes across its network as ferry services continue to be challenged by a shortage of vessels.

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“Ongoing delays in dry dock and technical issues affecting several major vessels has meant that CalMac has had to impose changes to ensure services continue to be delivered.

“Details about these temporary changes can be found on the CalMac website”.