Bhiodh e cus na b’fheàrr eileanaich a chur aig stiùir CalMac – Murray MacLeòid

Chan eil àite sam bith ann an Alba anns a bheil an uimhir de mharaichean ris na h-Eileanan an Iar.

Murray MacLeod

[English language version below]

Tha sin furasta gu leòr a thuigs'. Tha e cho nàdarrach ’s a ghabhas dha daoine a chaidh a thogail faisg air a’ mhuir, agus a bhiodh a’ riagal timcheall eathraichean, a bhith a’ cur an stiùir ri beatha aig muir.

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Nuair a thàinig leudachadh air a' chabhlachd mharsanta, b’ e cothrom a bh' ann dha fir nan eilean. (B' e fir a bhiodh ann anns na làithean ud). Mar mharaichean nàdarra, bha iarraidh orra agus ‘s gann nach robh baile anns an robh sgiobair no seòladair air choireigin.

Fiù ‘s an-diugh, tha mòran sna h-eileanan a’ dol gu muir agus tha na seann eòlaichean rim faighinn anns gach cèarnaidh. Sin as coireach gu bheil e cho tàmailteach nach eil duine dhen t-seòrsa rim faighinn am measg àrd-urracha ChalMac.

Chan eil aon duine bho na h-eileanan air an iar ri fhaighinn air bòrd-stiùiridh an dàrna cuid, Stòras Mara Caileanach (CMAL) no Aiseagan ChalMac, an dà bhuidheann riaghaltais a tha a’ ruith nan seirbheisean.

Tha fir agus boireannaich gu leòr ag obair air na soithichean ach nuair a thig e gu na h-àrd-dhreuchdan, chan eil feum orra. Seo agaibh stiùireadh uaislean Dhùn Èideann. ‘S dòcha nach biodh mòran air a ràdh mu dheidhinn nam biodh seirbheis-aiseig ann a b’ fhiach. Ach, chan eil ann an-dràsta ach masladh, chun na h-ìre agus gun maoidhinn companaidhean-bàthair gun tigeadh iad a dh’iarraidh soitheach iad fhèin son nan làraidhean aca a ghiùlain.

Nuair a bha còmhraidhean a' dol mu aiseag ùr eadar Steòrnabhagh is Ulapul, chaidh a ràdh gum biodh e na b’ fheàrr dà aiseag na bu lugha a bhith ann, a’ ruith air ais ‘s air adhart còmhla. Bhiodh seirbheis ann na bu trice agus, nam b’ e agus gum briseadh aon sìos, gheibheamaid air seirbheis air choireigin a chumail a' dol.

Ach, chaidh sin a dhiùltadh agus chaidh leanntainn air adhart le aon aiseag ùr, an Loch Sìophoirt, a chosg £42 millean le airgead bho Bhanca Lloyds. Bha dà einnsean gu bhith innte, thuirt iad, agus le sin, cha bhriseadh i sìos. ‘S e sinne a bha còir a bhith taingeil.

Nach e an cinnt sin a-nis a tha coimhead gòrach.Tha i an-dràsta na laighe ann an gàrradh fhathast briste agus an là nuair a chaidh gealtainn gum biodh i air ais air a dhol seachad. Anns an eadar-ama, tha An t-Eilean Arainn, aig 30 bliadhna a dh’aois, air a bhith air an t-slighe, agus An t-Eilean Leòdhais, soitheach a bha còir falbh nuair a thàinig an Loch Sìophoirt, ach ‘s gann gun tàinig aca air seirbheis a chumail.

Agus, chan eil math dìochuimhneachadh nas motha an dà aiseag a tha nan laighe leth-chrìochnaichte faisg air Glaschu, bliadhnachan air dheireadh agus a thuirt aon eòlaiche a tha a' dol a chosg £300 millean mas bi iad deiseil - an aon rud ri ochd Loch Sìophoirt ùr.

Ach, ‘s dòcha gur e an rud as deuchainneach idir, ‘s e cò tha cunntasail? Tha CMAL ag ràdh gur e Aiseagan ChalMac a tha a' ruith nan seirbheisean agus gur ann orra-san a tha an t-uallach; tha Aiseagan ChalMac ag ràdh nach eil aiseagan comasach gu leòr aca, agus ‘s e CMAL as coireach ri sin; agus tha Riaghaltas na h-Alba a’ falach air cùlaibh a h-uile càil leis na briathran gu bheil iad a’ toirt airgid seachad nach fhacas a-riamh.

Agus aig a’ cheann thall, ‘s e tha air fhàgail ach seirbheis a tha a’ dol a dholaidh agus iomadach maraiche eileanach a’ gabhail an dheirg iongnaidh leis na tha a’ tachairt timcheall nan cladaichean aca.

Fios bhon neach-deasachaidh:

Tapa leibh airson an aithris a tha seo a leughadh. Tha sinn an eismeil ur taic nas motha na bha riamh agus buaidh a’ Choronbhirus air buaidh a thoirt air luchd sanasachd. Mur eil sibh air a dhèanamh mar-tha, ma se ur toil, nach beachdaich sibh taic a chumail ri ar obair-naidheachd earbsach, a tha sinn a’ dearbhadh a tha fìor, le bhith toirt a-mach ballrachd digiteach.

There is nowhere that has produced as many mariners per head of population as the Outer Hebrides. Logic would deem that perfectly understandable. Those who spend their lives surrounded by the sea, whose formative years are spent jumping in and out of boats, tend to lend themselves easily to a life on the ocean wave.

The merchant navy’s expansion in the post-war years suited the men (as they invariably were back in those days) of the islands perfectly. Their natural seamanship proved in high demand and there was barely a village in the islands that didn’t supply a captain, a mate, a navigator, or an engineer.

Even today a significant number of islanders head to sea to make a living and retired captains and engineers are found in every community.

Which makes the absence of anyone of that ilk from the decision-making functions of CalMac all the more striking.

There is not a single individual from the west coast islands on the board of directors of either Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited or CalMac Ferries, the two Scottish Government quangos that oversee the ferry service.

There are crewmen and crew women aplenty, but when it comes to high-level strategic decisions they are deemed somehow surplus to requirements. This is the colonialisation of the islands from Edinburgh.

Maybe all this would have passed by without so much of a whimper had there been a half-decent ferry service. But what exists at the moment is an embarrassing shambles, stumbling from one crisis to the next, to such an extent that hauliers have threatened to hire their own vessel to handle freight between Stornoway and Ullapool.

When discussions were being held about a new ferry on CalMac’s busiest route between Lewis and the mainland there were repeated calls to look at two smaller ferries operating a shuttle service, giving more frequent crossings and would which have had the added benefit of – in the event of one breaking down – a comparable service being maintained.

But that was rejected and the powers-that-be ploughed on headlong with a £42 million ferry financed by Lloyds Bank. She would have two engines, they said, to much fanfare, so would never break down. The natives were supposed to be ever so grateful.

That hubris now looks folly in the extra. The MV Loch Seaforth is still in drydock with a broken engine, the date by which we were assured she’d back in service way gone. In her absence, the route was covered by the 30-year-old MV Isle of Arran, which has suffered breakdown problems herself, and the MV Isle of Lewis, another ageing vessel which the Loch Seaforth originally replaced.

Let’s not forget, either, there are two delayed ferries sitting in a shipyard that are years behind schedule and which one seasoned observer predicted would cost £300 million by the time they are finished – enough for four new Loch Seaforths.

But perhaps the most maddening thing of all is the lack of accountability. CMAL say it’s CalMac Ferries that run the service, so it’s their responsibility; CalMac Ferries say they are hamstrung by lack of new ferry capability, the responsibility of CMAL; and Scottish ministers hide behind the smokescreen of record levels of investment.

The end result is inertia and decay and many an experienced island mariner left wondering at the fiasco unfolding around their shores.

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