Isle of Lewis breaks down - what next?

The mv Isle of Lewis broke down shortly after leaving Stornoway this afternoon and had to return to port. All sailings for the day are cancelled.

Sunday, 16th May 2021, 5:56 pm
Isle of Lewis now broken down.. what next?

This latest development threatens to plunge the entire CalMac network into even deeper crisis. The Isle of Lewis was switched from the Oban-Lochboisdale route following the breakdown in mid-April of the mv Loch Seaforth.

Engineers are working on the Isle of Lewis with no immediate indication of how long she will be out of action. Nobody from CalMac was available for comment. The company’s web-site merely said: “Cancelled for the remainder of today”.

CalMac have repeatedly under-stated the time required to bring the Loch Seaaforth back into action and there are now fears that her absence could extend into June. On Friday, the “earliest” date for her return was pushed back to May 28th.

The knock-on effects of the serial failures on the Stornoway-Ullapool route already extends down to Islay and Arran, as vessels were redeployed to cover the freight run. However, the basic problem is that there are too few ferries and an ageing fleet.

It was recently estimated that it would now take 87 years to renew the CalMac fleet – more than double the figure a decade ago. It is now expected that the two unfinished vessels at the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow will cost a third of a billion pounds to complete, with no date in prospect.

Repeated calls for a relief vessel to be chartered to support the stricken fleet have been rejected by CalMac and Scottish Government Ministers. If, however, the latest blow proves to be anything other than short-lived, outrage on the island is likely to intensify.

Local businesses are already being hard hit by delays in freight moving on and off the island.

Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, said that he recognised ferries was an issue. “As is obvious to everyone in the islands, the ferry service at the moment is simply unacceptable," he said, in the aftermath of being elected “It is notable that this latest technical problem is occurring in one of the fleet’s newest vessels. This simply serves to illustrate why we need additional resilience across the ferries network.”