‘People’s CalMac’ call from RMT as ferries cancelled because of extended overhauls on ageing fleet

A campaign for a “People’s CalMac” to improve reliability and give islanders a greater role is to be launched by the main ferry union as passengers endure further disruption due to extended vessel overhauls.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) plans a “day of action” on Friday in Oban – one of CalMac’s main ports – two days after public spending watchdog Audit Scotland heavily criticised the handling of a long-delayed contract to build two desperately-needed new ferries at the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow.

They are now due to be delivered next year, five years late, for the main Arran route to Brodick and the Skye-North Uist-Harris triangle.

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Meantime, extensions to CalMac’s vessel maintenance programme have triggered a series of cancellations across its west coast network as the operator struggles with an ageing and increasingly unreliable fleet.

The main Ardrossan-Brodick route to Arran has been affected by lack of available crew. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Sailings cancelled include ten between Mallaig and Armadale in Skye on Thursday, one between Oban and Coll/Tiree on Friday, and two between Oban and Craignure in Mull on Monday.

The Mallaig/Oban to Lochboisdale service in South Uist has been suspended until March 31 due to a shortage of vessels, while lack of crew has forced two sailings between Ardrossan and Brodick in Arran to be cancelled on Monday.

The Gourock-Dunoon service will continue to operate with one vessel rather than two until Saturday after five weeks of reduced sailings.

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The RMT will call on the Scottish Government “to invest in creating a publicly-owned and operated ferry service that delivers reliable, more affordable services and which gives communities and workers a greater say in the running of the service”.

The union wants more investment in ferries for more reliable, frequent and extra services, “fairer” ferry fares, including for commercial drivers, and a stronger voice for communities, passengers and workers in the running of Scottish Government-owned CalMac.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “CalMac has a vital role to play in supporting the economic recovery of communities from Covid, but it needs sustained public investment to deliver the reliable, affordable and clean services necessary for this.

“The cost of procurement failure, such as those outlined by Audit Scotland, must not deter ministers from meeting the needs of workers or passengers.”

A CalMac spokeswoman said: “It is a legal requirement that all vessels are taken out of service for maintenance once a year.

"To limit disruption, this annual overhaul programme is arranged to take place during the winter period when there is typically less demand for services.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We agree that Scotland’s ferries should not be privatised, which is why ministers have already ruled that out - with no plans to split up the CalMac ferries network.

“The independent review of governance arrangements for Scottish Government lifeline ferry services will present a range of options to the overarching objective of effective, efficient and economic delivery of lifeline ferry services, to enhance passenger experience and support island economies.

“Ministers recognise there is a need to better incorporate islander voice in this regard, as the RMT calls for, and the transport minister [Jenny Gilruth] would be happy to meet with the RMT on this matter – recognising the difficulties island communities have been facing in recent weeks’ due to service disruption.

"The Scottish Government has committed to £580 million in the Infrastructure Investment Plan and it is vital this funding provides the vessels of the future, as soon as is feasibly possible, to build greater resilience in the CalMac fleet to better meet islanders’ needs.”

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