TECHNICAL issues hitting three ferries run by state-owned ferry operator CalMac including a pioneering diesel-electric hybrid brought fresh chaos to the island lifeline network yesterday.
The pioneering diesel electric hybrid ferry MV Catriona, the oldest in the fleet MV Isle of Cumbrae, and the MV Lord of the Isles were hit by problems which brought about suspensions to vital island services.
It is the latest in a line of peak holiday seasons problems with Scotland’s ageing state-run ferries at a time when services are already running at less than capacity due to Covid retstrictions.
Western isles ferry services had to be cancelled after the most serious of the technical problems hit the 32-year-old MV Lord of the Isles, one of the biggest and oldest vessesl in the CalMac fleet.
The vessel, which carries 505 passengers and 56 cars was yesterday due head to Kennacraig on the Argyll mainland where an engineer will work on a faulty propeller.
Problems with the Lord of the Isles surfaced on Tuesday evening and resulted in cancellations on the Mallaig, Invernesshire to Lochboisdale on South Uist and Mallaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye.
A knock-on effect saw services between Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris cancelled.
CalMac said it hoped Lord of the Isles, the most travelled vessel in the fleet, would be back on the Mallaig to Lochboisdale on South Uist run by this weekend.
While out of action MV Loch Seaforth is to operate additional sailings on the Ullapool to Stornoway, Isle of Lewis route. The MV Hebrides will run extra sailings on the route from Uig to Tarbert to help “displaced passengers”.
Customers who have bookings on cancelled sailings were to be contacted and transferred to the next available and suitable sailing.
CalMac added: “We apologise for the inconvenience this will cause.”
Electrical issues with the third diesel-electric hybrid vessel in the CalMac fleet, the six-year-old MV Catriona discovered on Tuesday night also saw cancellations yesterday morning on the route from Clanoaig, Argyll to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. Sailings resumed at 2.30pm after the issue was fixed.
And an oil leak resulted in the suspension of services on the mainland route between Tarbert and Portavadie on the Argyll and Bute coast involving the oldest vessel in the fleet, the 44-year-old Troon-built MV Isle of Cumbrae. Those too were later resolved.
The issues came a day after the beleaguered ferry network had finally recovered from another vessel breakdown which caused further disruption to travellers as the Glasgow Fair began.
MV Loch Riddon which should have been replaced by 2019 broke down on Saturday on one of Scotland’s busiest routes – to Millport on the popular island of Cumbrae.
CalMac were scrambling to find a replacement ferry on Sunday as it emerged that the 34-year-old Loch Riddon, which is the second vessel serving the Largs to Cumbrae crossing, had been hit by technical issues with the engine gearbox.
Services using the vessel – which has been removed from service – were cancelled from Saturday afternoon. The two-vessel service was cut in half and day trip ticket sales were suspended.
But delays meant that the 35-year-old MV Loch Linnhe – one of the oldest in the ageing CalMac ferry fleet – which was being being brought in as engineers investigate the problem – arrived a day later than scheduled on Tuesday.
Before Loch Riddon broke down, there were long queues at Largs ferry terminal with users suffering a two-and-a-half hour wait to get on and off the ferry for vehicles and two hours for foot passengers.
Loch Linnhe has only just finished acting as the emergency ferry after lifeline services to Mull were disrupted to another vessel breakdown after problems surfaced on July 8.
The network issues comes as would-be ferry replacements MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are still languishing in now state-owned Ferguson Marine’s shipyard, are running up to five years later with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract.
The Herald on Sunday revealed that the Scottish Government-controlled owners of Scotland’s lifeline ferries Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) flagged concern of a risk of administration for the shipyard company at the centre of Scotland’s vessel building fiasco, The Herald on Sunday can reveal.
Hopes of an emergency ferry were dashed just a week ago, when negotiations to charter the Pentland Ferries-owned catamaran MV Pentalina broke down.
It came after the Herald revealed that the catamaran which Scots transport chiefs wanted to use as an “emergency” to ease Scotland’s ferry crisis was taken out of commercial service over “safety” concerns.
Ferry bosses inquired about chartering Pentalina on March 26 – nearly three weeks before the engine failure of CalMac’s biggest vessel, MV Loch Seaforth, which caused seven weeks of chaos across Scotland’s lifeline ferry network.
Earlier this week Transport Scotland, the Scottish Govenrment agency, entered into a short term charter contract for an additional ferry services to support freight links between Ullapool and the Isle of Lewis.
The 23-year-old MV Arrow owned by Seatruck Ferries takes over MV Loch Seaforth’s evening freight sailing six days a week, allowing it to deliver two additional passenger sailings per week.