Following the announcement by CalMac Ferries Ltd that the MV Clansman is to return to dry-dock for repairs to its propulsion system during the first half of June, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has expressed anger and frustration over the implications for the travelling public, local and visiting, at one of the busiest times of the year.
Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said: “We were contacted by the senior management from CalMac to confirm the scheduling of the dry-docking of the Clansman and what temporary arrangements are being put in place while she is out of use.
“CalMac has decided to allocate the MV Lord of the Isles on the routes serving Coll, Tiree and Colonsay during this period with the effect that she will not be available to provide a service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale.
“The alternatives for passengers wishing to travel to South Uist is to use the Oban Castlebay and Sound of Barra crossings or the Uig Lochmaddy crossing.
“This will undoubtedly be inconvenient for everyone planning travel to and from our islands, and I daresay will not only lead to a number of cancellations, which the tourism sector can ill-afford, and a loss of confidence in these services going forward.
“This could in turn result in visitors choosing alternative holiday destinations in the future.”
He continued: “This is particularly frustrating for those involved in the tourism sector which has seen real and sustainable growth over the last several years.
“The Comhairle has played an important role in this and we are disappointed that all the efforts by the businesses and their representative bodies have been undermined by recent events.
“We appreciate the advance notice given and the improvement in communications undertaken by CalMac and we recognise the situation the operator faces in having to operate the services within the constraints of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service Contract and a limited and ageing fleet.
“We would however suggest that these alternative arrangements in terms of routes and timetables are no substitute whatsoever for the availability of additional tonnage or vessels which could be utilised in events such as that associated with the Clansman.
“We very much continue to look to Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to ensure that the additional capacity is provided as quickly as possible.
“Not only would this provide cover in the event of unforeseen situations such as that affecting the wider network, but would go a long way to addressing the needs arising from the obvious increase in demands particularly during peak periods in the year.”
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has also hit out at the Calmac plan to suspend all services from Lochboisdale.
He said: “Given that Calmac’s CEO and North Area Manager were in Uist just last week to listen to the concerns of those in Uist over the chaos caused by previous redeployment decisions, it is particularly disappointing that the latest changes result in Uist bear the brunt of disruptions to services again.
“It is clearly not within the spirit of what was discussed at that meeting to have had no consultation whatever before making this decision.
“While I accept that the current strain on the fleet is exceptional, I cannot accept that removing all services from one port is an equitable solution, no matter how exceptional the circumstances may be. In my view, the contingency plan has been ill considered and, again, poorly communicated.
“I have, today, made these points to both the CEO of Calmac and to the Transport Minister.”