Uist left with no ferry service after MV Hebrides hits pier

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MV Hebrides
Image caption,
The MV Hebrides hit a pier at Lochmaddy, North Uist, on Wednesday night

Islanders in Uist have been left with no dedicated ferry service to mainland Scotland.

South Uist's boat, MV Lord of the Isles, was withdrawn from service on Tuesday for essential repairs to its firefighting system.

On Wednesday night, North Uist's MV Hebrides struck a pier and all its sailings on Thursday were cancelled.

Ferry operator CalMac apologised and said it was considering moving boats around its network.

Western Isles local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has reacted with anger at Uist being left without a service.

Islanders are now facing journeys of more than five hours, involving multiple ferry crossings, to get to the mainland.

Normally South Uist's Lochboisdale to Mallaig crossing is a three hour and 45 minute journey, while North Uist's Lochmaddy to Uig ferry trip takes one hour and 45 minutes.

But now the options available to people wanting to travel from the Uists to the mainland are:

  • Travel south and a take a ferry from Eriskay to Castlebay on Barra and then a ferry to Oban. This would involve more than five hours of travelling to get to Oban.
  • Travel north and take a ferry from Bernerary to Harris and then a 56 mile (90km) journey by road to Stornoway in Lewis for a ferry to Ullapool - a total journey of almost five hours.

These times do not factor in the waits for different ferries, the 30 to 45 minute check-ins for the larger boats and some of the driving to the ports.

Map

The MV Hebrides struck the pier at Lochmaddy in North Uist on Wednesday night.

This led to the cancellation of all Thursday's sailings between Uig on Skye, Tarbert on Harris and Lochmaddy.

Skye provides a link to the mainland via its road bridge.

The MV Lord of the Isles was withdrawn from the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route on Tuesday, and could be out of action for more than a week.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has called on CalMac to charter a catamaran ferry as cover for disrupted islands sailings.

CalMac said engineers were assessing the extent of the damage to the MV Hebrides.

A spokeswoman said: "We are extremely sorry for the disruption that this will cause to our passengers.

"Investigations are currently being carried out into the extent of the repair required, and we will provide updates regarding services for tomorrow later today.

"Options such as moving vessels around the network are also being investigated."

Transport Scotland said the MV Hebrides was an operational matter for CalMac.

Image source, CalMac
Image caption,
The MV Lord of the Isles was withdrawn from its route earlier this week

The comhairle said Western Isles ferry services were in crisis and problems had affected lifeline services for at least the last five years.

A spokesman said: "The community of Uist is left without a ferry service to the mainland with both MV Hebrides withdrawn from her service to Uig on Skye and MV Lord of the Isles in Greenock for repairs rather than on her service from Lochboisdale to Mallaig."

The comhairle urged CalMac to hire a catamaran called the MV Pentalina.

The ferry had been looked at as cover for island services last year, but a deal fell through.

The MV Hebrides situation is the latest in a series of disruptions affecting CalMac's west coast network, many due to its ageing fleet and delays to the delivery of new boats.

The Lord of the Isles has been withdrawn from the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route for an estimated eight days for repairs to its firefighting system.

CalMac said a relief boat was unavailable while the ferry was out of service. Repairs to the boat were said to be progressing well.