Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has written to Cabinet Secretaries Paul Wheelhouse and Michael Mathieson highlighting the recent interruption in the ferry service to the Isle of Barra.
Inclement weather and poor fleet resilience has meant that Barra has gone ten days with only one ferry run to Oban. The two main vessels suitable for the Oban – Castlebay route are in dry dock at the same time, with MV Isle of Lewis’s overhaul facing delays. Meanwhile, the two relief vessels, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Isle of Arran, have been struggling to cope with the exposed waters of the Sea of the Hebrides during a period of rough weather.
This has resulted in shops in Barra attempting to stock food via Eriskay, with perishables arriving days old. Other businesses, including seafood processors, are unable to ship fresh produce off the island. MV Hebrides was redeployed from the Tarbert – Uig route to Barra over the weekend to provide relief. The worry for many is that shelves are starting to empty with no confirmation as of yet when a ferry will be able to make the crossing to help replenish fast diminishing supplies
Alasdair Allan MSP has asked the Scottish Government what can be done to improve fleet resilience. He commented: “This is an exasperating situation for the people and businesses of Barra. Barra’s seafood industry has had lorries stranded even before they encounter similar problems further south.
“The lack of resilience within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Network is having real economic and human consequences. This situation is mirrored by last year, which saw several five-day periods with no mainland ferry sailings.
“I have asked the Scottish Government what they can do to consider chartering vessels or other measures that might relieve the current strain on the fleet. While Barra is worst effected, Lochboisdale, and now Tarbert, are also suffering from the lack of suitable vessels.”
Scottish Conservative rural economy spokesperson, Jamie Halcro Johnston, who is also a Highlands and Islands MSP, also called for a solution.
He said:“The SNP Government must address this situation. It is appalling that islanders have been left facing empty shelves.
“While bad weather can have adverse effects, it is not good enough that the ferry fleet appears to have been unable to cope.
Robert Morrison, Operations Director for CalMac, said: “Following the prolonged recent severe weather, which caused disruption to sailings, the MV Hebrides was moved to Oban-based services in order to provide lifeline services to Coll, Tiree and Barra. "MV Lord of the Isles was also moved north to cover Lochmaddy to Uig services. A delay in dry dock to the MV Isle of Lewis and MV Clansman due to unplanned emergency repair work has also had an effect on services.
“We apologise for the inconvenience and appreciate the support of the community as we do our very best to ensure lifeline routes are maintained across the network.”