PASSENGER numbers on Caledonian MacBrayne ferries increased by almost 84,000 last year, despite losing 1,200 sailings to bad weather in the last two months of the year.
The number of cars also increased, with ferries carrying nearly 19,000 more of the vehicles in 2013 than the previous year.
Latest figures show 4,594,520 passengers travelled with CalMac on its 27 routes in 2013, a 1.86% increase on the previous year when it handled 4,510,733 people.
Last year 1,064,324 cars travelled on its ferries, up 1.8% from 1,045,540 the previous year.
CalMac operations director Brian Fulton said: “2013 was a year of very mixed fortunes with an incredibly busy and hot summer which boosted carryings especially on the Clyde, but which was followed at the end of the year by some of the worst winter conditions ever seen.
“These storms have had, and continue to have, a devastating effect on sailings right across the network from the Clyde to the Western Isles.
“In November and December, around 1,200 sailings were cancelled due to the weather, which is a good indication of how widespread the disruption has been. Anyone who has seen the TV footage of extreme weather battering coasts around the country will have a good sense of the type of conditions our masters have been facing and understand why this winter has been such a challenge.”
He added: “We recognise that these cancellations are hugely inconvenient for ferry travellers and the communities we serve, but we have to put the safety of our passengers, crews and ships first.”
Two routes were trialled for the first time in 2013; the Ardrossan-Campbeltown summer service which began in May, and the Lochboisdale-Mallaig winter service, which began in November.
CalMac said the latter has been badly affected by the extreme weather which has prevailed for virtually all of the first two months of the pilot.
The number of coaches carried was close to 2012 levels at 11,210, but overall commercial traffic fell 6.68% - down nearly 7,000 to 92,589.
Mr Fulton added: “Without detailed analysis it is difficult to be precise about the reasons for fluctuations in traffic and trends do vary across the network, but our experience is that any drop in commercial traffic is likely to be related to the completion of major infrastructure projects, so is not an area of major concern - although clearly we would prefer that the ships were as busy as possible.”