The Marine and Coastguard Agency approved on Friday afternoon the use of the Isle of Lewis – which has been redeployed from the Barra run to make three return sailings over each 24 hour period, including the night sailing with freight.
David Wood, owner of Woody’s haulage business, told the Gazette: “Keep your fingers crossed, for that’s what we are all doing. What could possibly go wrong?”
Mr Wood described the situation as “ludicrous” and said that there was already a huge backlog of freight with Caledonian MacBrayne “now taking bookings back from us”. His firm has been using the Tarbert-Uig route to get as much freight as possible in and out.
The biggest CalMac customer, D.R. MacLeod, slammed the arrangements as “abysmal” and said cancellation of freight crossings since Wednesday breached assurances given by Nicola Sturgeon at the start of the pandemic that freight to the islands would be given priority.
“With very few cars and passengers, she said the priority would be for freight to get through to the islands. Yet the first thing they do is cancel the freight ferry”. Mr MacLeod said that ferry services in Orkney and Shetland were “infinitely better” which he attributed to “political clout”.
He said that, given the fragility of the CalMac network, back-up vessels should have been chartered long ago – “not as a reactive thing but because of the obvious need to have cover when things go wrong”.
A CalMac spokesman said: “The MV Loch Seaforth has been suspended from service until further notice due to an engine failure.
“As a result, the vessel requires major repairs, and she has been taken off the Ullapool to Stornoway route with immediate effect. She is going to a repair yard where there is access to an engineering workshop (James Watt dock in Greenock) and is leaving today.
“It is expected that the vessel will be out of service until at least the end of April. The cause of the engine issue will be thoroughly investigated, and necessary repairs will be carried out as soon as possible.
“The MV Isle of Lewis will pick up the day service for passengers and for freight on the Ullapool to Stornoway route from tomorrow.”
Robert Morrison, Operations Director for CalMac, said: “We appreciate the importance of the passenger and freight service on this route and apologise for the inconvenience this will cause. Please be assured that we are doing our utmost to find solutions to get the service back to normal.
“We are working closely with the vessel owners CMAL and Transport Scotland to find ways to continue the freight and passenger service between Stornoway and Ullapool. Customers wishing to travel today are being diverted on alternative routes.”