Ferry issues leaving visitors 'sleeping in cars'

Image source, CalMac
Image caption,

The MV Hebrides was withdrawn from service earlier this week

At a glance

  • Islanders in the Hebrides are concerned ferry disruption is badly damaging tourism

  • Ferry operator CalMac has had to take steps to cover for the withdrawal of its MV Hebrides after a fault

  • Outer Hebrides Tourism says some visitors are cancelling their holidays

  • The Scottish Lib Dems are calling for an emergency statement at Holyrood on Western Isles services

  • Published

Visitors to the Western Isles are having to sleep in their cars or are cancelling holidays at short notice due to ferry disruption, it has been claimed.

Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) said shops and restaurants were also struggling to get deliveries as part of what it called a deepening crisis on state-owned CalMac's west coast network.

Islanders warn repeated ferry disruption risks damaging their islands' reputation as tourist destinations.

North Uist, Harris and Skye ferry the MV Hebrides was withdrawn from service on Tuesday due to a reoccurrence of a fault.

CalMac has apologised and taken steps to ease disruption including offering customers alternative routes, providing additional sailings and repositioning one of Mull's two ferries to provide temporary cover for the Hebrides.

Tourism is important to Scottish island economies.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee has called for urgent short-term investment in CalMac so a standby relief vessel could be made available to cover for breakdowns.

Scottish government agency Transport Scotland said Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth convened a resilience meeting on Thursday night to discuss the situation with the Hebrides.

The Western Isles' MSP and MP along with councillors, the Ferries Communities Board and Harris Development Ltd were involved.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Tourism is important to the Western Isles' economy

OHT chief executive Sarah MacLean said disruption to ferry services was having a devastating effect on Western Isles businesses and communities.

She said: "Whilst the Scottish government must now invest in CalMac to improve fleet resilience both in the short and long term, we call on them to compensate our local businesses and invest in rebuilding confidence in the Outer Hebrides as a visitor destination after the negative economic impact of this summer's ferry fiasco and indeed this winter’s disruption."

Joe Reade, of Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, urged CalMac's bosses to look again at chartering the Pentalina, a catamaran ferry tied up in Orkney.

A previous deal to hire the boat as a relief vessel collapsed last year.

Mr Reade said: "We just urgently need additional vessels in the fleet.

"The frustrating thing is that there is one sitting waiting to be chartered or bought."

Image source, Pentland Ferries
Image caption,

A previous deal to chart the Pentalina collapsed

CalMac hopes to have Hebrides back in service on Sunday following work to its firefighting system.

The ferry was hit with a similar problem last week.

CalMac, which posts service updates on its website, external and its social media, has issued an apology to its customers, and appealed for patience with its workers while they try to meet demand.

Managing director Robbie Drummond said: “Moving vessels around is not ideal but without any spare tonnage to use during disruption, it is often the only available option we have to continue to operate lifeline services.

"I can assure customers that we have looked at all possible alternative options before coming to this decision.

“I am deeply sorry about the effect that the loss of MV Hebrides has had on our passengers and communities.”

With Scottish government support CalMac, and its parent company CMAL, have sought to ease pressure with previous charters of a freight ferry and the purchase of the MV Loch Frisa, a former Norwegian passenger ferry.

On Friday, the Scottish Liberal Democrats called for the Scottish Parliament to be recalled for an emergency statement.

In response, Transport Scotland said discussions had taken place about Hebrides' return to service.

A spokesman said CalMac and CMAL had been asked to make a thorough investigating of the fault with the boat's CO2 firefighting system.

He added: “Ministers recognise that having confidence in ferry services can impact upon people’s decision on whether to live and work on the islands, and impacts upon the sustainability of the island communities themselves.

"These human impacts are at the heart of Scottish ministers’ commitment to continued investment in ferry services across Scotland.”

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