CalMac ferry disruption: Islanders 'staring down the barrel of a summer of more chaos'

Fear follows further delays to two of west coast operator’s biggest vessels.

A “summer of more chaos” on CalMac’s ferry network was predicted by the Scottish Conservatives following further delays to getting two of its largest ships in service.

Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs on Thursday the delays would be “frustrating” to those affected, and urged CalMac to make best use of its available vessels and provide as much capacity as possible.

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However, West Scotland MSP Jamie Greene said: “Frustration is an underestimation of the strength of feeling on our islands. What they’re actually staring down the barrel of is a summer of more chaos on the ferry network.”

The warning came a day after CalMac announced that completion of steel repairs to its 1,000-passenger Caledonian Isles, which has been out of action since January, would be delayed by two months until the end of August.

It followed the Ferguson Marine shipyard announcing a further two-month delay to Glen Sannox, which is due to take over the main Arran route. This means the ferry is not likely to be carrying passengers until October.

During Caledonian Isles’ absence, the route between Ardrossan/Troon and Brodick is being served by the ageing Isle of Arran ferry and the catamaran Alfred, chartered from Orkney operator Pentland Ferries.

Mr Greene told MSPs: “We have got the Loch Shira out of action servicing Cumbrae that’s causing a lot of consternation on that island. The Caledonian Isles will not be around this summer and Glen Sannox has been delayed as well.

Caledonian Isles is 31-years-old. (Photo by CalMac)Caledonian Isles is 31-years-old. (Photo by CalMac)
Caledonian Isles is 31-years-old. (Photo by CalMac)

“That simply leaves the Isle of Arran, which is a 40-year-old vessel and prone to breakdown itself. Is it any wonder that our islanders are nervous about the forthcoming summer season?”

Ms Hyslop said islanders were still able to travel despite the disruption to vessels.

But she admitted: “This is a challenge - we undoubtedly know that. I have been up front that this will be a difficult time, particularly with dry docking [such as the Caledonian Isles repairs].

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“But let’s get behind our islands, say they’re open for business, and do that with a united voice. I’m acutely aware of the impact the disruptions can have for people and businesses.

“The complexity of the Caledonian Isles design means the repairs must be carried out in a co-ordinated and controlled manner, which is a highly-complex repair effort.

“I have made it clear to CalMac I think it would be helpful for them to be upfront and realistic about timescales because that does help confidence in terms of planning.”

Ms Hyslop said Transport Scotland was “urgently” considering a funding request from the Arran Ferry Committee and CalMac to increase Alfred’s passenger capacity while Caledonian Isles remained out of service.

The Cabinet secretary also said Glen Sannox, sister ship Glen Rosa and four ferries being built in Turkey would see six new vessels in service by 2026, which would make a “significant difference”.

Ms Hyslop told The Scotsman earlier: “We always knew this period would be one of the most difficult because we have still to see the new vessels coming in.”

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