Labour in the Western Isles has called for immediate action to charter a freight vessel for the Stornoway-Ullapool route in order to ease pressure on the Loch Seaforth and the wider CalMac network.
Prospective Parliamentary candidate, Alison MacCorquodale, has pointed to reports in the maritime media that cargo vessel, Clipper Ranger, which was formerly deployed on the Stornoway-Ullapool route is “resting” at the Cammell Laird yard on Merseyside.
Meanwhile, her larger sister vessel, Clipper Pennant, is going on charter to carry freight between the Spanish mainland and the Canary Islands. She added that the same report states that it is likely Clipper Ranger “will join her three sister vessels in going out on charter to another operator”.
It is one of these sister vessels, Clipper Arrow, which has been leased by the Scottish Government to provide extra capacity on Shetland services, provoking protests from the Western Isles over the disparity of treatment between the needs of the two island groups.
Ms MacCorquodale said: “It is now beyond dispute that there are freight vessels available in the market, contrary to the assertions by SNP Ministers. There are very serious concerns about what the winter holds, particularly with the Loch Seaforth’s annual visit to dry dock coming up”.
Her demand for urgent action was strongly backed by Stornoway haulier, David Wood, who has written to the local MSP, Alasdair Allan, warning of “real concern over the inability of CalMac to provide a reliable alternative to the Loch Seaforth”.
Mr Wood wrote: “We would expect no less than the service gained by (Shetland MSP) Tavish Scott for the Northern Isles last week with the deployment of Clipper Arrow to alleviate pressure on freight services.”
Welcoming Mr Wood’s intervention, Ms MacCorquodale said: “It is quite clear that the voice of the Western Isles has not been getting through to Edinburgh and we now need to highlight the problems and concerns much more effectively in order to safeguard our islands’ economy from further damage.”