In addition, 698 metres of commercial space – equivalent to about 26 trailer-loads – were cancelled, throwing island businesses into disarray. Very little of the traffic displaced by the disruption could be re-routed via Lochmaddy where the service was fully booked.
The figures seen by the Gazette throw into doubt claims that the decision to withdraw the ‘Lord of the Isles’ for repairs to its drencher system, in the hope this will “allow the vessel to remain in service throughout the summer”, would have little impact because of low usage.
They have also highlighted concerns about dire implications for the Uist economy if the ‘Lord of the Isles’ remains unreliable during the six month closure period of Uig pier, starting in October, when Lochmaddy capacity will be sharply reduced.
The 29 year-old ‘Lord of the Isles’ headed for Greenock on Tuesday and, according to CalMac “is estimated to return to service on 25 May, at the earliest”. Hopes that the Barra route, with ongoing connection to Eriskay, might take some of the burden have also been dashed.CalMac said on Wednesday: “We have explored options to provide additional sailings on the Barra-Eriskay service. Due to current weather conditions preventing the second vessel and crew from repositioning to Sound of Barra, we are currently unable to provide additional sailings on the Barra-Eriskay route”.
Island haulier, Gail Robertson, said: “There are a lot of very angry people in South Uist. We are pressing them to work round the clock on repairs, as they did to get the ‘Caledonian Isles’ back into service, but so far we have had no assurance of that”. Tourism businesses have suffered a wave of cancellations over the past week.
Uisdean Robertson, chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transportation committee, said matters had been made worse by the ‘Isle of Arran’, seen as a back-up vessel, now being used on a seasonal route between Ardrossan and Campbeltown which “is not a lifeline service”.