Hauliers to take freight service into own hands

Hauliers in the Western Isles have piled pressure on the Scottish Government by taking their own initiative to find a charter vessel which would relieve the current crisis in west coast ferry services.

By murray macleod
Friday, 23rd April 2021, 7:35 am
The Loch Seaforth sailing down the Clyde for repairs... leaving behind major headaches on the Stornoway-Ullapool run

Ministers and Caledonian MacBrayne have repeatedly ruled out chartering even after the breakdown of the ‘Loch Seaforth’, claiming that no suitable vessel is available – and specifically ruling out the mv Pentalina, owned by Pentland Ferries.

However, in a statement on Thursday afternoon, the hauliers claimed the Pentalina is available said they had grown impatient at the lack of action by Calmac and Scottish Government agencies CMAL and Transport Scotland in the face of repeated breakdowns across the CalMac network.

They continued: “Hauliers have reached out to Pentland Ferries to understand what would be needed to charter MV Pentalina to provide a freight service between Stornoway and Ullapool. This would release MV Isle of Lewis to operate three passenger services in each direction between Stornoway and Ullapool while MV Loch Seaforth is in dry dock for repairs.

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“A longer term charter of Pentalina would allow the three return sailings to be retained when Loch Seaforth returns to service delivering a significant improvement in service to Lewis and Harris.

“Based on information provided by Pentland Ferries it has been established that the Pentalina would be available for charter fully crewed within a month of a charter agreement being signed. Stornoway based hauliers can guarantee 12 artic bookings per day in each direction which would meet the entire charter costs.

“All that hauliers would ask is that the Scottish Government contribute to harbour dues”.

Haulier, D R MacLeod said, “The islands are beng held hostage by an unreliable ferry service specified in Edinburgh and delivered from Inverclyde. We do not expect that ferries can operate without technical issues but the frequency of breakdowns in the Calmac fleet should have demanded urgent action to reduce the fleet age and increase the fleet to provide better resilience.

“Instead we are promised much and given little. Ministers claim they have given CMAL the green light to charter in vessels which has not yet happened, yet it has been confirmed that the Pentalina is available and could be chartered with no crewing impact on Calmac.

“As CMAL and Calmac have failed to act local hauliers are looking at the potential to charter the vessel and put in place the service while guaranteeing that hauliers will guarantee fares revenue on an open book basis meaning Government exposure to extra costs will be minimised. Surely this is something our MPs and MSPs can get behind and support?”

There has still been no statement from either Scottish Government ministers on the cause or extent of the damage to the ‘Loch Seaforth’ or any indication of how long she is going to be out of service.

The Loch Seaforth broke down last week and is expected to be out of action for some weeks, causing severe disruption throughout the network – not least in Uist and Barra.