CalMac expected to deploy Pentland Ferries chartered ferry Alfred on main Arran route between Ardrossan and Brodick

CalMac is expected to deploy its newly-chartered catamaran ferry Alfred on the main Arran route shortly, The Scotsman has learned.

The anticipated move comes as the west coast operator is understood to have not received any request for the vessel to be recalled by owner Pentland Ferries to replace its Pentalina ferry, which is out of service after running aground on the Orkney-Caithness route on Saturday.

Pentland Ferries has cancelled all its sailings until at least Monday while an inspection of Pentalina is “ongoing”. NorthLink increased its sailings between Orkney and Caithness from two to three a day on Monday as scheduled, with transport minister Kevin Stewart telling MSPs on Tuesday that a fourth daily sailing would be considered if required to meet demand during Pentalina’s absence.

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CalMac’s route between Ardrossan in North Ayrshire and Brodick in Arran is one of its busiest, but has been cut from two to one vessel because of delays to its annual overhaul programme and several ferries being out of action.

Alfred in Ayr harbour on Wednesday. Picture: John DevlinAlfred in Ayr harbour on Wednesday. Picture: John Devlin
Alfred in Ayr harbour on Wednesday. Picture: John Devlin

An industry source said a series of berthing trials involving Alfred at various ports on CalMac’s network were being assessed after being completed on Tuesday before the ship was put into passenger service.

They said that included whether “pretty minor” modifications were required at some of the harbours. Alfred is a different shape to CalMac’s ferries, none of whose major vessels are catamarans.

Ports involved in the trials included Lochmaddy, Ullapool, Ayr, Troon, Campbeltown and Port Askaig on Islay, in addition to Ardrossan and Brodick.

The source said they were chosen as those where Alfred was likely to fit. The ferry can carry 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars with 12 articulated lorries or coaches.

Alfred is being chartered for nine months as a relief vessel to stand in for other ferries when they are out of service.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said initial reports from the firm “point to the cause of the grounding being a sudden mechanical breakdown”. Pentland Ferries said smoke had been detected in the engine room before it grounded, shortly before Pentalina arrived its destination in St Margaret’s Bay in Orkney and there was a “minor ingress of water”.

A total of 60 passengers were safely evacuated by lifeboat. A spokesperson for the UK Department for Transport’s marine accident investigation branch (MAIB) said on Wednesday: “A team of MAIB inspectors arrived on site yesterday and have since been gathering evidence and examining the vessel in support of a safety investigation.”

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Dr Alf Baird, the Orkney-based former director of the Maritime Transport Research Group at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “There is perhaps not too much in the way of structural damage given the nature of what might be described as a 'light' grounding and the rapidity in refloating the boat.

“We are not into the peak travel period as yet – that occurs towards the end of May onwards. There should be sufficient time to repair Pentalina and it to re-enter service, all going well.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The current priority is for Pentland Ferries to assess the condition of the vessel and any next steps to determine when she can return to service on the Pentland Firth. All parties will work to minimise disruption to services to Orkney.”



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