A LIFELINE ferry has broken down causing a fresh wave of disruption to lifeline island services and headaches for holidaymakers over the past six days.
The 18-year-old MV Coruisk, a younger member of Scotland’s ageing ferry fleet has had technical issues since Thursday leading to a series of cancelled sailings to Mull – one of Scotland’s most popular holiday islands.
After undergoing repairs and sea trials on Sunday it emerged that yesterday (Tuesday) services were further disrupted with sailings cancelled because of a problem with the engine propulsion management system.
Local campaigners who have been pushing for a replacement ferry say the development is precipating a crisis on the islands.
CalMac say that they had informed the Maritime and Coastguard Agency about the decision to remove the vessel from service, which was being monitored over the failure of the engine control system.
It comes as ferry operators CalMac reported 90 minute waits for cars and foot passengers on the Largs to Cumbrae crossing as sailings on one of the oldest vessels in the fleet, the 35-year-old MV Loch Riddon was suspended after a crew member tested positive for Covid-19.
It meant the two-vessel service was cut in half.
Problems with MV Coruisk, which takes 240 passengers and 40 cars is the second vessel on the Oban to Craignure route alongside MV Isle of Mull during the summer – first emerged on Thursday.
Source: YouTube (Tanisla2)
Chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, Joe Reade said the withdrawal of the ferry came following the worsening of a pre-existing electronic fault.
“This can’t go on for much longer. Additional ferries need to be brought into the fleet urgently, whilst we wait patiently for Ferguson’s to complete the two ferries that should have been delivered three years ago. The islands are suffering, and urgent action is needed.”
Islanders on Mull had hopes of a ferry ‘rescue’ dashed just a week ago, when negotiations to charter the catamaran MV Pentalina planned to work the Oban-Craignure route 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.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has called for an inquiry into how the Scottish Government’s ferry procurement strategy could have exposed people to “risk”.
Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency had been considering the suitability of Pentalina, which can hold 58 cars and 350 passengers.
Brian Johnson, the chief executive of the MCA, the executive agency of that implements British and international maritime law and safety policy, said there were “discrepancies” uncovered over structural fire protection relating to the passenger accommodation and a corridor providing access to the crew accommodation and galley servery.
“The MV Isle of Mull is still in service, but the capacity is well short of what is needed,” said Mr Reade.
“It is not known how long it will take for the problem to be fixed, but it’s likely to take several days. This will bring added pain to islanders, who are already finding it difficult to travel to and from the island due to the high volume of tourist travellers taking up all available spaces.
“In particular, the number of campervans visiting the island has mushroomed this summer. These large vehicles benefit from the same reduced fares as other passenger vehicles, but consum e large areas of scarce deck space.
“This is impacting on every aspect of island life and economy. Just when we should be trading our way to recovery from Covid 19, our economic lifeblood – tourists – cannot get here because of CalMac’s carrying capacity.”
On July 3, technical problems with MV Isle of Lewis meant that all sailings between Oban and Barra were cancelled.
There were failed attempts the following day to secure another vessel to operate the service.
On July 5, repairs were completed while MV Clansman was drafted in to provide extra sailings to clear a backlog of traffic.
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.
Some 16 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac’s 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.
The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 45-year-old and is still a regular summer ferry on Argyll and Bute’s Tarbert to Portavadie route.
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, with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract.
Ferguson Marine’s financial collapse in August, 2019 resulted in state takeover, while the delivery of the ferries which were due online in the first half of 2018 will be over five years late.
The ferries contract was plagued by design changes, delays and disputes over cost, with the yard’s management and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the Scottish Government-controlled taxpayer-funded company which owns and procures ferries for state-owned CalMac, blaming each other.
Last month, Mull was named as an alternative destination for holidaymakers instead of Portugal this year.
The tourist hotspot at the time had been removed from the green travel list with all holidays abroad looking less than certain for the foreseeable future.
And in a new study naming staycation alternatives to the UK’s top 10 most popular European holiday destinations, Mull was identified as an ideal replacement.
The research by Dorset Coastal Cottages ’ Duplicate Destinations compiled the list based on climate data, cost to visit and entertainment provisions, with Mull being chosen as the Scottish alternative to the Portuguese island of Madeira.
With people still determined to make the most of their summers, Mull was revealed as the place with the nearest average climate score based on sun hours, average temperature and average rainfall per year.
Other Scottish locations chosen in the Duplicate Destinations included the Isle of Barra, which was revealed as the ideal substitution for the picturesque location of Santorini in Greece, and Edinburgh coming in as a fun city break swap for Prague.
The Scottish capital has the closest average climate score to the Czech Republic capital – not to mention the similar amount of top tourist attractions.