SCOTLAND’S lifeline island ferry network is suffering a new wave of disruption and cancellations over the September weekend – after it emerged one of its ageing fleet of vessels will be out of action for the third time in three weeks.
Ferries across the taxpayer-owned CalMac lifeline vessel network are expected once again to be re-organised with a host of sailings cancelled to try and cover for for 21-year-old MV Hebrides which has been hit with stabiliser issues.
There was further concern amongst ferry users after preparing for the Millport September Weekend after they were notified that MV Loch Riddon which was due to return to Largs to support the event had been delayed in an annual overhaul.
It was due to be completed on Tuesday, but may not be back in action till today at the earliest.
September Weekend organisers had hoped that there would be extra support from Cumbrae Slip.
But on Friday there was a two hour waiting time for vehicles at Largs.
One ferry user said: “It’s just not good enough”.
Hebrides, which can carry 612 passengers and 90 cars was due to be replaced by a new ship, one of two dual-fuel vessels at the centre of a ferry-building fiasco that are languishing in Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow on the Clyde.
After a delay of over four years the new ferry, known as Hull 802, is expected in early 2023.
CalMac have said that it can continue to carry out a severely restricted service on its usual Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert routes, while repairs are carried out.
But users have been told that its operations will be impaired during “adverse weather” and as that is expected on Saturday, so the service has been cancelled.
The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator said they are in the process of contacting all customers affected by the disruption.
“We are working on a repair plan to have this issue rectified as soon as possible and are currently working on contingency plans,” CalMac said.
Hebrides had only been back in service for hours after being sidelined due to positive Covid case.
Hebrides was out of action at the end of August after an oil leak was discovered on the shaft seals. It went into dry dock in Birkenhead and was due to be out of service until September 9.
Customers began asking about what was happening with services on Friday evening.
Susan Macleod said: “We were booked on Uig to Tarbert ferry tomorrow morning and it’s cancelled. We haven’t received any info can you help?”
CalMac responded: “Good Evening, We are in the process of contacting all customers who will be affected by this disruption. If your booking has been affected, you will be contacted by the local port office. Thank you.”
Meanwhile, there was still no sign of a return for the 40-passenger catamaran MV Larven, normally operated by Western Isles Cruises which was chartered by CalMac at the start of the month by the state-controlled ferry operator as further disruption hit services to and from the so-called Small Isles including Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna.
The Herald revealed it was put out of action the day after it was chartered due to a “technical issue” and was out of action for four days.
It came in after the usual Small Isles vessel 21-year-old MV Lochnevis hit problems leading to further cancellations.
It was originally brought to accomodate foot passengers to work alongside the 25-year-old CalMac vessel MV Loch Bhrusda as MV Lochnevis was taken out of service for an annual overhaul.
But at 7pm on Wednesday it was confirmed that MV Larven had been put out of action again due to another “technical issue” and Loch Bhrusda has had to cope on its own.
Neither CalMac or Western Isles Cruises have responded to queries about what the issue was.
The development comes as CalMac have admitted that Lochnevis that usually runs the route was delayed from coming out of its annual overhaul.
It was due back on Wednesday and yesterday there was an indication that it would return today (Saturday) – having hit repair issues before its annual overhaul.
CalMac were telling ferry users that the delay in Lochnevis’s return meant that timetables were subject to change on Saturday morning, while relief vessel Loch Bhrusda was expected to continue operating on its own.
Meanwhile the 36-year-old MV Hebridean Isles, one of the fleet’s oldest vessels, which was sidelined with a hull problem for a 12th day on Thursday was back in action on Friday afternoon. Its repair issues has led to further disruption to services to and from Islay and Colonsay.
It is the latest in a summer of issues with breakdowns and Covid issues involving Scotland’s ageing ferry fleet.
Islanders from Arran to Islay have lodged complaints to ministers about disruption and cancellations to services as the ageing Scottish ferry fleet falters.
While industry experts agree the working life of the ferries is 25 years, 14 of the 33-strong ferry fleet run is older than that, with eight past their 30th birthday.