The future of ferry services to the Scottish West Coast Islands has been under the spotlight recently with disruption to sailings due to the absence of the MV Clansman.
The fragility of West Coast services due to ageing vessels, which are increasingly vulnerable to faults, has been underlined by Calmac itself and local tourism groups and politicians are now demanding increased investment in vessels to ensure a more robust system.
The MV Clansman returned to service on the Uig to Tarbert and Lochmaddy route in the middle of last week, taking the baton over from MV Hebrides, which sailed off for its own dry dock appointment.
However, the MV Clansman has another appointment for repairs in June, creating another service headache for ferry operator Calmac.
So far calls to the Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf to intervene in what has been described as a “ferry crisis” has failed to bring forward any information about the long-term future of services on the West Coast.
Talking about the lifeline ferry services to the Scottish Islands, Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, said to the Gazette this week: “The news that MV Clansman is back helps bring the Calmac fleet back something nearer to full strength, but there are likely to be a few days in June, as we now discover, when she will need to go in for repairs again.
“As the tourist season gets ever busier it is clear that along the whole west coast of Scotland, ferry services are going to be operating close to capacity, and so any disruptions need to be minimised.
“I have had meetings in Lewis in the last few days with Outer Hebrides Tourism to hear their concerns about ferry services.
“I will be doing the same in Uist next week, where I have organised a meeting between Calmac’s interim Chief Executive and a number of people in the community there.
“In a number of recent conversations with the Transport Minister, I have emphasised that Calmac needs to find both immediate and longer-term solutions to their difficulties.
“In the immediate term, Calmac need to get better at deploying the fleet they have and communicating with the community.
“In the longer term, there are real issues about the ageing fleet – a hangover from a time ten or fifteen years ago, when virtually no vessels were getting built.
“I hope it will be possible to get people from both Calmac and the government to come to the transport summit I have proposed to be held in Uist, and to answer questions directly about plans for the future.
“Meantime, I keep pressing Calmac and taking up the many individual concerns which people are presently bringing to me.”
PUBLIC VIEWS ON FERRY FUTURE
The public will soon be able to give their views about the long term future of ferry services in the area to Transport Scotland directly, as part of the Outer Hebrides Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) Study.
A series of drop-in sessions will take place from May 15th to 24th to gather the public’s views about services.
The study will identify and appraise options for the long-term (over the next 30 years) provision of services to, from and within the Outer Hebrides.
At this stage of the study, the focus is on gathering views and factual information on the problems and opportunities associated with all aspects of the ferry service.
The study’s drop-in sessions from 4pm to 8pm will take place in:
North Uist & Benbecula: Tuesday 15th May at Carinish Hall, Carinish
South Uist & Eriskay: Wednesday 16th May, Southend Community Hall, Daliburgh
Barra & Vatersay: Thursday 17th May, Castlebay Community Hall
Harris: Wednesday 23rd May, Tarbert Community Centre, Tarbert
Lewis: Thursday 24th May, Caladh Inn, Stornoway.