One of the most experienced captains of the CalMac fleet has warned against taking Scotland’s lifeline Hebridean ferry routes away from the state-owned company.
With half a century of seafaring experience, Norman Martin recently skippered his last CalMac sailing – to Islay – and is due to retire at the end of this month.
In his 39 years of service, Mr Martin, 68, has travelled on every route in the CalMac timetable.
Serco – which already operates Northlink ferry services to Orkney and Shetland – and incumbent CalMac have been invited to tender for the Clyde and Hebridean routes.
Speaking ahead of a Scottish Parliament debate on the tender, scheduled for today, Mr Martin said the Clyde and Hebridean routes should stay with Calmac.
The skipper, who lives in Oban and is known as Norman “Norwest” Martin in the Hebrides, said: “The government owns CalMac, it’s a private company but owned by Scottish ministers, so they have the authority to instruct you to do what they want you to do.
“They have the authority to appoint the directors and set strategy.
“But if you go to another private operator they are delivering a contract according to the contract that you have struck and it’s very difficult to foresee any variation you might need in advance.
“CalMac are delivering a difficult job to a good standard.”
He added: “CalMac’s ethos was to serve all the different interests, there are the car drivers, the hauliers, but there are also the foot passengers, the elderly, the vulnerable, the young mothers with buggies – you have to look after all these interests, it’s not about the money.”
Mr Martin joined CalMac full-time in 1976 as second mate, working his way up to Master of the Lochmor ferry in 1984, on the Mallaig-Small Isles run.
Talking about his journeys, he said: “It is a very challenging area, there are several gales every winter which are severe and it results in very large swells, and there are times when the ships can’t be manoeuvred in, but the islanders understand that.
“There can be enormous waves, but the ships are much better now for tackling them, the current fleet is in a different league at tackling them.”
He added: “My worst journey was trying to get the last run in, to get the people to Islay before the Bells in 2006.
“The storm was so bad it had put the causeway at Kennacraig under water, but it could have been a lot worse, the ship handled it well.
“There have been many times, crossing the Minch, when it has been a challenging crossing but you take your decision on whether you can do it safely or not. You shouldn’t be pressurised by other people.”