Glasgow & West Scotland

Repair problems behind MV Isle of Arran CalMac ferry cancellations


Problems with an elderly vessel are leading to an unusually high number of cancellations on two CalMac services.

The MV Isle of Arran, launched in 1984, serves routes connecting Arran and Campbeltown with Ardrossan.

It suffered technical problems in May and was returned to service after temporary repairs were made, due to the difficulty in sourcing spare parts.

Although seaworthy, the ferry now has a lower tolerance for certain conditions, resulting in more frequent disruption.

For the past few summers the MV Isle of Arran has been used to double the number of sailings between Ardrossan and Brodick and provide six sailings a week on a new summertime route between Ardrossan and Campbeltown.

Dry dock repairs

At the start of this season the ferry suffered a serious technical breakdown. It went into dry dock for more than a week for repairs.

BBC Scotland understands that, because of the age of the vessel, sourcing some replacement parts has proved very difficult.

Rather than take the vessel out of service and cause months of disruption to Arran - and potentially abandon the Campbeltown service completely for the moment - a decision was made to make temporary repairs to ensure the vessel was safe and seaworthy and able to resume service.

However, because full, permanent repairs could not be made, the threshold for cancellations because of the wind is now significantly lower than normal for legal and licensing reasons.

Image copyright Neil Cuthbert

This has led to a number of cancellations on the lifeline Ardrossan to Brodick route in what may appear to be relatively good weather.

Instead passengers have had to wait an hour or so for the next sailing on the other vessel which covers the route.

It also means that the Campbeltown service has been cancelled on several occasions - sometimes at short notice and risking significant problems for foot passengers.

If the ferry is cancelled at short notice, foot passengers in Ardrossan have no other way of reaching Campbeltown easily.

'Hugely disappointing'

This is because the last scheduled bus of the day from Glasgow will already have left, although CalMac has run replacement bus services from Ardrossan.

John Armour, the SNP member for South Kintyre in Argyll and Bute, played a major role in the campaign to make the ferry to Campbeltown permanent.

He said it was "hugely disappointing" the service had been beset with technical problems.

"I appreciate that some passengers have, on occasion, found information on cancellations to be lacking and I would urge CalMac to provide better communication and help, especially for passengers wanting to travel from Ardrossan," he said.

Councillor Armour added that he understood how frustrating the cancellations could be but warned there could be more until the boat goes into dry dock for permanent repairs.

He said the service had been greatly welcomed in Kintyre and hoped it would be possible to enhance the timetable in 2018 when new ferries were ready.

The problems have proved frustrating for those on Arran who value the flexibility and extra capacity brought about by the extended summer service to the island.

It has also proved disappointing for those in Kintyre who believe the ferry link - which became permanent this year after a three-year trial - can do much to help develop the area's fragile economy.

Cancellations 'understandable'

Stakeholders in the ferry service in Kintyre will meet this week to discuss the situation.

One pressing issue will be whether the practicalities of cancellations could be handled better.

One source told the BBC: "There is an understandable and straightforward reason for the cancellations. But until the issue with the vessel is sorted these will continue and people need to be patient. CalMac has no spare vessels to use instead.

"But I feel the way things are dealt with in practice and communicated could be improved greatly.

"But there's bad luck too. If it had been a better summer, there'd have been fewer days when the wind led to a cancellation."

BBC Scotland understands the plan is for the MV Isle of Arran to undergo permanent repairs at the end of the season.

This means the number of cancellations should be dramatically reduced to normal levels.

A brand new ferry is expected to enter service on the Arran route in 2018 although it still has not been decided if this will cover the Campbeltown route.

Passengers are advised to check CalMac's website which warns if there is a heightened risk of a sailing by the MV Isle of Arran being cancelled, although final decisions are sometimes not taken until close to the scheduled departure time.

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