PASSENGERS were forced to take a bus on an over 150 mile journey as one of ferry operator CalMac’s oldest vessels had to be redeployed amidst a row over a series of cancellations affecting lifeline services in Scotland over the weekend.
One of CalMac’s oldest vessels, the 38-year-old MV Isle of Arran had to be taken off the Ardrossan to Campbeltown service for use on one of Scotland’s busiest ferry routes from the mainland to Brodick on the Isle of Arran after the MV Caledonian Isles was put out of action because of two positive Covid cases.
The redeployment meant that all sailings between Ardrossan and Campbeltown were cancelled.
The ferry operators set up a replacement bus service for foot passengers hit by the cancellations at 1.50pm to arrive at Campbeltown after a three-and-a-half hour and a 153 mile journey. Some 46 are understood to have taken the trip.
A row blue up as six services were cancelled operated by MV Caledonian Isles – one of CalMac’s largest vessels which carries 1000 passengers and 110 cars.
CalMac later said MV Isle of Arran – which carries less than half the number of passengers and 34 fewer cars – would operate four sailings in the afternoon.
It stressed the lifeline service was still running pointing out there were also two ferries running from Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig on the mainland as an alternative.
There was further concern when CalMac said that due to “reduced crew numbers affecting hours of rest” two services at 9.45am and 11.05am yesterday between Brodick on Arran and Ardrossan were cancelled. The ferry operator said that “compensatory rest is required in line with the maritime labour convention” and came after Covid cases were discovered.
CalMac brought in an emergency vessel after two days of service cancellations on the the same crossing at the start of last week after another Covid case.
MV Loch Linnhe, one of the oldest in the ageing fleet operated by CalMac, was commissioned after a series of cancellations on the Ardrossan to Arran route caused by a member of staff testing positive for Covid on board MV Caledonian Isles.
Ferry users lodged their concerns all day with some concerned about services operating today.
One Arran Ferry Action Group official said: “This is all on one of the busiest weekends of the year. They could keep playing the Covid card indefinitely. Surely as a lifeline service they could be exempted for this.”
One ferry user Bruce Harvey lodged a complaint with CalMac over the Arran route cancellations saying: “What the actual **** are you playing at. Our start to our summer holidays are now ruined. You are having a stupid meltdown. The whole ship for one crew member and all sailings [gone], get a grip! You are ruining holidays and an island economy. Get the ship back on.”
James Lawrence added: “They don’t have enough ferries. The Covid excuse is just that, an excuse. Cancelling all those sailings when most of the population is vaccinated. Remove the crew member, clean the ship.”
MV Isle of Arran was drafted in to support one of Scotland’s busiest ferry crossings.
Another commented on social media: “Well looks like I’m swimming home tonight.”
On Saturday morning an electrical issue put the 32-year-old MV Lord of the Isles, one of the biggest and oldest vessels in the CalMac fleet, out of action and resulted in at least two cancellations of two services between Mallaig and Lochboisdale on South Uist.
CalMac said late the same afternoon that the technical problem had been fixed and that an additional Lochboisdale service was provided yesterday.
But that meant four sailings from Mallaig, Invernesshire and Armadale on the Isle of Skye were cancelled yesterday.
Four weeks ago the vessel, which carries 505 passengers and 56 cars was out of action leading to further service cancellations as engineers had to fix faulty propeller.
It comes as transport chiefs continue a search to charter back-up for Scotland’s beleaguered fleet after a summer of disruption and breakdowns.
CalMac is currently footing an £11,760 a day bill to charter an emergency ferry from Isle of Man government-owned Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Limited to help maintain lifeline passenger and freight services.
MV Arrow was brought in to help relieve pressure on freight services between CalMac’s Stornoway to Ullapool crossing but broke down on July 24 after operating for just a week. Marine waste got tangled with a propellor and all sailings scrapped till the end of the month.
The delivery of new lifeline island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, are over four years late, with costs doubling to over £200m. Glen Sannox was due to support the Arran route.
A CalMac spokeswoman said they were seeking replacement crew members as a result of positive Covid cases.
“There were already positive cases on the Caley Isles with other crew members isolating before these two cases happened, and a ferry must have a certain number of crew before it can be safely run,” she said.
“Covid rules in terms of infection control are still in place, to keep people from catching it, they’re not a choice and staff would absolutely rather that services were running smoothly without having to withdraw ferries, but these are the rules we have to work to at the moment.
“There are reduced crew numbers because of previous positive tests and the legal requirement for people to self-isolate. Like all transport operators, crew are legally required to have rest periods, for the safety of all.”
Tommy Gore, area operations manager for CalMac said: “Two crew members on board MV Caledonian Isles have received positive covid tests. According to current protocol, which is in place to protect passengers and staff from the chance of infection, we need to replace crew members who have been identified as close contacts and get the vessel deep cleaned as soon as possible.”
“Extra sailings will also run today between Lochranza and Claonaig as an alternative crossing and we would encourage customers to use this route if at all possible.
“Unfortunately, this means that the Campbeltown-Ardrossan service has had to be cancelled, with a replacement bus service for foot passengers running in its place. We apologise for this inconvenience and thank passengers for their understanding.”