Boat operators come to stranded islanders’ rescue

CalMac ferries docked in Oban while workers strike over pay, pensions and conditions. Picture: Moira Kerr
CalMac ferries docked in Oban while workers strike over pay, pensions and conditions. Picture: Moira Kerr
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Small boat operators have been hailed as local heroes for going to the aid of islanders as industrial action brings two-thirds of CalMac ferries to a halt today.

Nicol MacKinnon, who runs a small passenger ferry from mainland Argyll, has agreed to do a special delivery for the Royal Mail to Islay, Colonsay, Coll and Jura.

Mr MacKinnon, who runs a scheduled service from Tayvallich to the isle of Jura, will also be on hand to help transport police to Islay for a royal visit by Prince Charles.

He said: “We are also taking a group of cyclists who need to get to Islay from the mainland and are taking a group of hillwalkers from Islay back to the mainland. We are doing quite a few extra runs. It is going to be a busy day.”

Cath McCallum, owner of the Jura Hotel, said yesterday: “We have a few cancelled bookings for tomorrow but Nicol is a local hero, he is bringing the mail and is helping to transport guests too.”

Struan and Cameron Smith, who operate Coastal Connection, a 12-seater boat service on the west coast, are going to mirror CalMac’s normal timetable from Oban to Craignure, on Mull, to help islanders. Struan Smith said: “People were asking us, so we thought why not.”

Iona boat operator Staffa Tours was also helping to transport islanders backwards and forwards between Oban, Mull and Iona on Wednesday night, when the CalMac sailings between Craignure and Oban were cancelled due to an overtime ban.

Mary-Jean Devon, Argyll and Bute councillor for Mull, praised the boat operators for helping.

She said: “Islanders are resilient, we are used to there being no boats, no mail, no papers, it’s no different to when we don’t have a boat on a wild day. People who think with an island head know that we are surrounded by water and that we are at the mercy of the sea.”

Although the main Oban to Craignure service is affected by the RMT union’s industrial action, over the future security of members’ pay, pensions and conditions, the smaller Mull ferry routes from Fishnish to Lochaline and Tobermory to Kilchoan are still running today.

Ms Devon said: “There is a girl from Mull who now lives in Fort William, who is getting married there tomorrow, and the bridesmaid and other members of the wedding party are going over on the Lochaline ferry instead. CalMac were on to the bride to see if they could help.”

Bookings have been cancelled at hotels up and down the west coast as a result of the industrial action, which saw an overtime ban in operation yesterday and on Wednesday, prior to today’s strike.

CalMac said ten of its 27 routes plan to sail today as normal, or to an amended timetable. The company estimates that it will be able to carry 40 per cent of its normal passenger capacity during the strike.

Worst affected routes will be those serviced by the company’s larger vessels, including the Outer Hebrides, Mull, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree and Islay. But a number of the smaller routes that attract large numbers of passengers will operate as ­normal.

Martin Dorchester, CalMac’s managing director, said: “Our door continues to remain open to reach a satisfactory conclusion that suits all parties and avoids this unnecessary action.

“Although it looks like this action will be limited in scope, it will undoubtedly still hit the communities we serve hard.”