Demand to recall Parliament for emergency statement on CalMac ferry disruption

Scottish ministers have been urged to recall Parliament to allow an emergency statement to be made amid further ferry cancellations.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats made the call after key Western Isles routes were hit by service disruption.

The MV Hebrides vessel is out of action for urgent repairs until at least Sunday due to an issue with its CO2 firefighting system.

Services between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris have been cancelled since Tuesday.

MV Hebrides docks at Tarbert, Harris, Outer Hebrides

Ferry operator CalMac has since announced the MV Isle of Mull will be redeployed to cover the Lochmaddy and Tarbert services.

But that move has come under fire as the reshuffle impacts one of Scotland’s most popular routes, between Oban and Craignure on Mull.

Other key routes, including Mallaig to Lochboisdale on South Uist and Mallaig to Armadale on Skye, have also been disrupted.

Lib Dem economy spokesman Willie Rennie: “Everyone knows the fleet is outdated and prone to breakdowns, but nothing seems to be being done about it.

“If half the transport link to the First Minister’s constituency were removed overnight her constituents would be beating down her door and I’m sure a solution would be found in short order.

“Because this affects island communities, far from the central belt, residents are just expected to grin and bear it, even as their businesses suffer and their family members struggle to get to medical appointments.

“I believe that this is serious enough that the Parliament should be recalled and the minister made to explain why years of underinvestment in our ferry network has been allowed to lead us here.

“Islanders have been clear that if these ferry failures continue, the Scottish Government are risking an ‘island clearances’ as residents will simply find the situation intolerable.”

Island communities have voiced their frustration to MSPs in recent months following repair issues with CalMac’s ageing fleet of vessels.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator had said in an emergency timetable plan brought in on Tuesday that all options for a relief vessel had been explored and that vessels across the rest of the CalMac network would remain on their timetabled routes for the current time.

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, has lodged a complaint to CalMac over the "huge capacity reduction" for both cars and foot passengers that has emerged "in the busiest week of the year".

Mr Reade said: "This zero-sum decision demonstrates yet again what an appalling state our ferry service is in.

"For the fleet to be so stretched and fragile, that this is the necessary 'solution' for a breakdown, proves once again that there is a complete failure of strategy and delivery from government and its agencies.

"This will have a hugely damaging and disruptive impact on businesses in the busiest week of the year.

"There will be vocal and heart-felt complaints from Mull and Iona as a result of this, and they will be absolutely justified.

"Tour boats cancelling trips at the busiest time of the year; islanders unable to leave; valued tourists unable to get to their destination; supplies undelivered; appointments missed.”

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: "While we aim to move all booked traffic, urgent deliveries and medical appointments will be prioritised.

"Moving vessels around is not ideal but, without any spare tonnage to use during disruption, it is often the only available option we have to continue to operate lifeline services.

"I can assure customers that we have looked at all possible alternative options before coming to this decision.”

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