South Uist locals slam CalMac over ferry sailings

The Lord of the Isles. Picture: Contributed
The Lord of the Isles. Picture: Contributed
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FERRY operator CalMac has come under fire from islanders who claim that the new Lochboisdale-Mallaig service has had more cancellations than actual sailings since its launch.

The latest cancellations on the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service occurred on Saturday.

The publicly-funded ferry operator has blamed a knock-on effect of the bad weather hitting a number of services on Friday.

But CalMac’s “abandoning” of the timetable without any reference to the South Uist community was branded as “an unacceptable abuse of power by the company that is supposed to be providing a lifeline ferry service for this community”.

‘No respect’ say locals

Local businesses and island residents said they had fought long and hard for this service, but claim CalMac seemed intent on undermining the three year trial at every opportunity.

John MacMillan, chairman of South Uist estate owners Stòras Uibhist, said: “CalMac clearly have no respect for this community, or the businesses that are operating here.

“These latest cancellations have impacted on the export of shellfish caught by local fishermen as well as residents travelling to and from the mainland for business and Christmas shopping.”

He is seeking an explanation on how CalMac is able to cancel sailings to Mallaig and replace them with a sailing on an entirely different route, which he claimed was to the economic detriment of the community.

Huw Francis, Chief Executive of Stòras Uibhist, added that CalMac has cancelled sailings to Mallaig more times than they have actually sailed, usually blaming poor weather conditions.

He said: “Local businesses and residents are keen to use the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service.

“However, the repeated cancellation of sailings and the uncertainty that CalMac is creating over the entire operation is unacceptable and seems designed to ensure the trial service will fail.

“For CalMac to cancel a Saturday sailing to Mallaig due to ‘weather issues’ on the Friday and then sail to an entirely different port is bizarre.

“For years CalMac has cancelled our ferry service due to adverse weather, now CalMac is cancelling it during good weather and sailing somewhere else. South Uist should not have to put up with this second rate treatment from a publicly owned service provider.”

Councillors say ‘changes made on a whim’

Local councillor Ronnie MacKinnon said: “This cancellation is totally unacceptable and undermines the efforts of this community to regenerate the economy.

“It further reinforces the case for a dedicated vessel operating twelve months of the year.”

His council colleague Donnie Steele added: “For too long CalMac has ignored this community and this latest cancellation demonstrates that South Uist needs a dedicated ferry to provide a service that is not operated at the whim of someone in Gourock.”

A CalMac spokesman said: “Saturday’s cancellation of the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service was a knock-on from Friday’s bad weather cancellation on the Oban-Castlebay-Lochboisdale route.

“We had traffic to clear at all three ports and the most prudent way of doing this was to run a Lochboisdale-Castlebay-Oban service on Saturday. Unfortunately this resulted in the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service being cancelled.

“We appreciate this was disappointing to some but we have to be permitted to take decisions which will benefit the majority of people.”