Highlands & Islands

Disruption to CalMac services worst in years, says chief

CalMac ferry at Oban Image copyright Calmac
Image caption CalMac services have been operating to an amended timetable

A boss at Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) says the current spell of disruption to the company's ferry services is the "worst for seven years".

The problems have been caused by repairs to the ferry MV Clansman having taken longer than expected.

An alternative timetable is in place, with widespread disruption across CalMac's west coast routes.

Robbie Drummond said staff have been working "absolutely flat out" to try and lessen the impact on customers.

His comments were followed by an announcement by CalMac that the Clansman, which has had a temporary repair done to its propulsion system, is to be taken out of service for a permanent replacement part to be fitted between 1 and 12 June.

During this period, an amended service will operate on the Mallaig-Armadale route and the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route will be suspended.

'Lessons learned'

CalMac's managing director told BBC Scotland: "This period of disruption has been the worst we've faced over seven years.

"It has been really challenging for our staff to manage through it.

"They have worked absolutely flat out to find the best service that they can."

Image copyright Dales Marine Services
Image caption Calmac said repairs to MV Clansman had taken longer than expected

Mr Drummond added: "We have learned some lessons through this process.

"I think one of the biggest lessons is one on how we communicate. Our communication has not always been as quick and accurate as we would have liked.

"That is something we have taken forward and have looked at how we improve in the future."

'Frustrated and angry'

Mr Drummond also said islands communities, many relying on lifeline services, were not always getting the service they would expect.

He said CalMac was having to balance it services across its network, and with an ageing fleet of ferries. The average age of the fleet is 22 years old.

Mr Drummond said the company was looking at how it could "build more sustainability" into the fleet.

One of the ways of doing this was by having new ferries built, he said.

Western Isles Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said it was "frustrated and angry" that the new planned work to the Clansman would cause further disruption.

Uisdean Robertson, chairman of the comhairle's transportation and infrastructure committee, said: "CalMac has decided to allocate the MV Lord of the Isles on the routes serving Coll, Tiree and Colonsay during this period with the effect that she will not be available to provide a service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale.

"The alternatives for passengers wishing to travel to South Uist is to use the Oban-Castlebay and Sound of Barra crossings or the Uig-Lochmaddy crossing.

"This will undoubtedly be inconvenient for everyone planning travel to and from our islands, and I daresay will lead to a number of cancellations, which the tourism sector can ill-afford, and a loss of confidence in these services going forward."

He added: "This could in turn result in visitors choosing alternative holiday destinations in the future."

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