CalMac Arran ferry nightmare as ageing Caledonian Isles repairs will take four months

Main route to Brodick will be without its principal vessel until at least mid June pending extra £5 million work needed

Arran’s main ferry will be out of action for nearly another four months until mid-June because of continuing repairs to the ageing Caledonian Isles, operator CalMac announced on Thursday.

The news comes as yet another blow to islanders using one of the company’s busiest routes, who have already waited six years for a new ferry because of massive delays to the completion of Glen Sannox.’

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They have also suffered significant disruption for the past two years after Caledonian Isles took longer than expected to complete its annual maintenance and developed other problems.

Caledonian Isles has been undergoing its annual overhaul since January. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Caledonian Isles has been undergoing its annual overhaul since January. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Caledonian Isles has been undergoing its annual overhaul since January. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The official Arran Ferry Committee said the news of the additional £5m repairs would have “major repercussions” for the island.

Scottish Conservatives West Scotland MSP Jamie Greene said: “This latest astonishing revelation is just about the worst possible news for Arran and islanders who are at their wits’ end."

CalMac said there was an estimated further 16 weeks of work before the vessel could return to service on the main route to Brodick – taking it to mid June.

The company said it had “received clarification from the dry dock operator on the initial scope of significant steel renewal and repair required” on the 31-year-old vessel, which will cost some £5 million.

“To carry these repairs out, the auxiliary and main engines will need to be removed from the vessel to allow suitable access to the double bottom water ballast tank tops,” CalMac said. “These repairs need to be done in a planned, co-ordinated manner rather than all at the same time to maintain the vessel’s structural integrity.”

The operator said it would announce how it would plug the gap to its summer timetable, which starts at the end of March, by March 4.

It said vessels were surveyed in advance of their annual maintenance to assess the extent of work needed, but there were “limitations to what these surveys can detect” and the steelwork required only emerged during the overhaul, which started on January 4.

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CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond said: “We know this news will cause concern and frustration for communities across the whole network, and we apologise for this. Our team will be working exceptionally hard over the coming days to assess every eventuality in terms of vessel deployment, with a view to minimising disruption for the communities and customers we serve.

"We will do the best we can in these circumstances, but it is unavoidable that there will be a knock-on effect on other routes on the network.

“Caledonian Isles has served North Ayrshire with distinction for over three decades, but like any ageing vessel the scope of work required in annual overhaul is likely to grow each year.

“Over a third of our vessels are now operating beyond their average life expectancy, and we invested record levels in annual maintenance in 2023.

“We are stretched to the absolute limit in terms of network deployment already, and the arrival of six major and ten small vessels in the coming years will provide much-needed resilience and reliability.”

Glen Sannox, which is being built at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow, was due in service in 2018, but this is not now expected until late July at the earliest.

Sister vessel Glen Rosa, which is also scheduled to serve the main Arran route, is due to be completed next year.

Arran Ferry Committee secretary Bill Calderwood said he was shocked at the length of the delay.

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He said: “Unfortunately, it compounds the issues experienced last year with similar delays to Caledonian Isles’ maintenance, the loss of the Hebridean Isles and the other disruptions to port infrastructure and the delayed introduction of new vessels.

"This will have major repercussions for the community and their quality of life. It also places severe pressure on our economy, leaving many businesses with challenges.

"But they will respond in the usual way and welcome all customers. This will require support in more ways than just ferries.

“Despite the news, Arran is still accessible with the vessel allocated and we will be working very closely with CalMac personnel to develop alternative contingency options to provide the required needs of the island.

"The secondary service operating from Lochranza has again served us well this year and will continue to complement the main services.We will push for early announcements to reassure customers.”

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