Tourists 'forced to sleep in cars' due to a ferry breakdown on Scottish route

Tourists have been ‘forced to sleep in cars' due to a ferry breakdown on the Outer Hebrides route.

The 19-year-old car ferry MV Loch Portain broke down on Friday afternoon, leaving services on the route between Leverburgh on Harris and the island of Berneray – an important link in the Hebrides chain – cancelled throughout the weekend.

CalMac has said a smaller ferry is expected to be brought in on Monday to take up the slack as the MV Loch Portain remains out of action.

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Users have been told engineers needed to deal with the problem were not available until Monday.

The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry leaving Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. Picture: Global Warming Images/Shutterstock

Cllr Grant Fulton, based on Harris, said he feared the knock-on effect of islands' disruption is that tourist will not return and people were stuck in Harris and Lewis with no accommodation as well as "struggling to even get food due to the crisis with lack of staff in food businesses".

He said: "Tourists are having to sleep in cars.

"Accommodation providers in North and South Uist will have cancellations due to their guests not able to travel.

"Travel plans are scuppered, with folk trying to make the Lochboisdale, South Uist, and Barra ferries, as many tourists use the hopscotch CalMac booking option travelling down or up the islands.

"CalMac have no extra capacity to provide a ferry when another breaks down – almost a weekly occurrence at this stage.

"Accommodation providers in Harris are now getting future cancellations due to the ferry lottery system.

"How are our own businesses supposed to survive with the increased fuel costs and ferry lottery system?

"We have shellfish that needs transported, food and fuel that needs to come to the island.

"Is this acceptable? Will these visitors return? I certainly wouldn't."

One traveller made a social media plea for accommodation, saying her family was "stranded and unable to reach our next rental property on Eriskay".

She wrote: "Does anyone know of any dog-friendly accommodation? CalMac are not taking phone calls."

She was eventually offered a room for the night after the appeal, but said she managed to get a hotel booked after CalMac advised they couldn't get her group to Eriskay before Wednesday.

Another tourist said she was stranded on Uig on Lewis before finding a detour.

CalMac said a limited passenger-only charter was organised, which required booking.

The company said: "We recognise that cancelling a service can be very challenging for our customers and the communities we serve and apologise for the disruption this will cause."

It said Loch Portain, which can carry 146 passengers and 34 cars, would remain out of action on Monday whilst further investigations are carried out on the vessel's propulsion system.

It was hoped a smaller relief vessel, MV Loch Bhrusda, which can carry 150 passengers and 18 cars, would be in place yesterday but is now expected to take up service from today.

CalMac said: "As a result of the reduced capacity this ferry offers not all existing bookings can be honoured - we will operate a prioritisation system and port staff will contact affected passengers."

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