Ferries to linger in dry-dock for longer

CalMac has published its annual maintenance programme for the entire fleet – and it comes with a significant warning to the travelling public that vessels will be out of action for longer than would normally be expected due to the burden of having to deal with an ageing fleet.
The MV Isle of Arran, built 36 years ago, is still being pressed into service.The MV Isle of Arran, built 36 years ago, is still being pressed into service.
The MV Isle of Arran, built 36 years ago, is still being pressed into service.

​Last year, a total of 647 days had been allocated for the cumulative period for all 35 vessels to be in dry-dock, but that has increased this year to 668.

The entire spend for the annual overhaul programme is expected to be £45 million this year – though the actual out-turn figure for the current year is not yet known – and has soared by 125% compared to the outlay in 2017.

The increased challenge of annual maintenance is a direct legacy of years of under-investment in the fleet and the failure to deliver new ferries to CalMac, with the result of constant service disruption and delay.

CMAL, the procurement agency, have also been urged to bring forward the scheduled replacement of the inter-island ferries on the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra - not due till 2030 at the earliest - with a warning from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar transportation chair Uisdean Robertson that “no one believes that what we have at present is going to last until then”.

CalMac said that “several vessels will be subject to an extended annual maintenance period” which is “needed to meet the requirements for a peak of scheduled maintenance and survey work, which is in keeping with the fleet age profile”.

Pauline Blackshaw, Director of Strategy and Change, said: “The annual overhaul programme ensures that our vessels are as resilient as possible to cope with the challenging waters of the west coast. This winter, multiple vessels will be required to cover single routes, which will lead to challenges across the network.

“Occasionally, emergent work is discovered, leading to a delay in the vessel returning. This occurred early in 2023 due to a combination of technical defects and the subsequent impact on the planned annual maintenance period schedule.”

She added: "We understand customers may be anxious about this happening again, in which case, we will stay in close contact with them to ensure that they are kept up to date.”