Calmac criticised for lack of contingency plan

John Finnie, the Greens' transport spokesperson, highlighted discussions regarding the leasing of a freight vessel to relieve pressure on the Stornoway to Ullapool route, currently serviced by MV Loch Seaforth.
John Finnie, the Greens' transport spokesperson, highlighted discussions regarding the leasing of a freight vessel to relieve pressure on the Stornoway to Ullapool route, currently serviced by MV Loch Seaforth.

Bosses at Caledonian MacBrayne were told by a Green MSP at Holyrood today (Wednesday) that island communities are “crying out” for a better ferry service.

Giving evidence at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the ferry company’s chairman and managing director Robbie Drummond came under fire from John Finnie MSP for its current level of service distribution, which the company themselves say is the “worst for eight years”.

John Finnie, the Greens’ transport spokesperson, suggested that Calmac bosses wouldn’t be happy with the current situation, to which the managing director, Mr Drummond replied, “we have managed our best.”

Finnie, the Green MSP for Highlands and Islands, said: “There needs to be wide scale replacement of the existing Calmac fleet, Calmac management claim they are doing their best with restricted resources.

“It’s not good enough and our island communities are crying out for more reliable services.

“Ferries provide lifeline services to island communities and support the hugely important tourist trade and it’s therefore astonishing the number of cancellations caused by mechanical breakdowns.

“Every reasonable person accepts that any transport systems can experience delays and cancellations, but this number is completely unacceptable and I will continue to press the company and ministers to demonstrate that improvements are being made.”

Finnie also took the opportunity to ask about how having a dedicated freight vessel might free up capacity.

He said: “I am aware of ongoing discussions regarding the leasing of a freight vessel, previously used on the Ullapool/Stornoway route and that a proposal to lease a former Seatruck vessel ‘for 5 years for £6m per year’, is under active consideration.

“I’m reliably informed that the Scottish Government is unhappy with the length of the proposed lease, but I suggest they redouble their efforts to secure a much needed deal.”

Conscious of a past record of foreign crewed freight vessels on contract to the Scottish Government not paying seafarer agreed rates Mr Finnie added: “Whilst Mr Drummond declined to be drawn on the specifics of this welcome development, I was delighted to receive his assurance that, should this proposal be progressed, there would be the active involvement of the trade unions to ensure all agreements are met.”