Islands’ demand a better service

The MV Loch Seaforth had to load and unload vehicles this week using only one access point.
The MV Loch Seaforth had to load and unload vehicles this week using only one access point.

A lack of information by Calmac has been criticised by disgruntled passengers this week as they were forced to wait hours before travelling following an incident with the MV Loch Seaforth at Stornoway pier on Sunday afternoon, which left the ferry with damaged bow doors.

Due to depart at 3pm the vessel finally got underway at 11pm, and confused and frustrated passengers led a storm of protests about the situation on social media.

Their main complaint was the lack of information and updates about the unfolding situation.

A brief statement from the company this week, only said: “‘An incident at Stornoway harbour on Sunday (October 14th) resulted in a closure issue with the MV Loch Seaforth’s bow doors.

“The cause of this is still under investigation.

“After successfully closing the doors and obtaining necessary permissions to sail from insurers and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) the vessel departed at 11pm.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this delay may have caused passengers.”

There was no further explanation about what caused the eight-hour delay in gaining permission from the insurers.

The MV Loch Seaforth is currently operating using one access point to load and unload vehicles, this procedure will be in place until the vessel goes into annual dry-dock on October 21st.

However the incident has put the whole question of good communication with passengers and good management of vessels back in the spotlight.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Chair of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, said of the latest incident: “In the last year there has not been a Community on the West Coast Network of Calmac that has not suffered from ferry breakdowns.

“To a degree we can accept that there are difficulties sourcing suitable RoPax ferries for our routes. These difficulties are already well documented.

“The ongoing problems of poor communication and decision making is one that is within the gift of Calmac to address however.

“Since the poor decision making on ferry deployment on the Triangle Service at Easter the Comhairle has been making the case strongly that something has to change.

“Currently everything happens from Gourock - a port not even on the Calmac Network.

“A report on lessons learnt on the Easter issue was promised by Calmac but has still to surface.

“This was raised with the Cabinet Secretary recently and he has undertaken to discuss with Calmac.”

Mr Robertson continued: “The Comhairle has always taken the view that communication and decision making will only improve when management functions are relocated to island areas throughout the network.

“This has been raised many times with the previous Transport Minister and more recently in separate meetings with Paul Wheelhouse MSP and Michael Matheson MSP.

“It is now very clear to all of us that CalMac’s management do not understand how their actions affect island communities.

“If they lived and worked in those very communities they serve they would certainly learn to appreciate and understand better how to relate to these very communities.

“This latest incident and the one last week relating to the cancelled sailing in Lochboisdale reinforces the need for immediate action.

“A report has been prepared for the Islands Transport Forum on October 25th.

“This report makes the point that Island local authorities have been concerned for some time at the way several of its key lifeline ferry and air services are delivered.

“All too often island communities are left counting the cost of decision-making that appears to be ill-judged and which fails to best address the needs of the communities.”