A north MSP has called for a ferry to be found on a short-term lease to ease the pressure on services in the Western Isles during one of the busiest tourist periods of the year.
Hundreds of passengers face at least two weeks of chaos as operators CalMac was forced to reshuffle its fleet.
One of its ferries has been forced to make an extended stay for repairs to a propeller and replacement of a propulsion shaft after sustaining severe damage entering the drydock for routine maintenance this month.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is angry the Uig services in particular will be affected yet again, with a smaller vessel being used to provide cover.
CalMac announced that the MV Hebridean Isles was moving to operate the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy triangle and MV Hebrides will sail south to service Tiree, Coll and Colonsay.
Mrs Grant said: “I believe this could go on for a further two weeks – over the busy Easter season – meaning there will be reduced capacity on the smaller ferry operating the triangle, meaning disrupted and cancelled bookings.
“What is needed is another ferry to be brought in. I am contacting the Transport Minister as a matter of urgency to try to resolve this matter.
“It makes me angry that yet again services for the Western Isles are hit because there is no back-up ferry brought in to fill the gap. It is totally unacceptable for individuals and businesses.
Western Isles councillor Iain A MacNeil, chairman of the Uist Economic Taskforce Working Group, said: “It is hugely disappointing. The loss of carrying capacity on the route will have a significant knock-on effect to the local economy.
“Given the economic challenges presently faced by Uist it is unacceptable that these challenges are being exacerbated by Calmac and their poorly-judged approach to this lifeline route.
“It appears that Calmac repeatedly de-prioritises Uist with their approach to vessel selection on Uist routes.
“Uist always seems to be at the bottom of the queue.
“Uist has a magnificent tourism product. We have a fantastic environment, an unrivalled cultural heritage, first class visitor attractions and a warm and welcoming approach.
“We are growing our tourism economy incrementally year-on-year. Calmac should be working with us to help grow that market and not be finding ways to inhibit growth, which they appear to be doing at present.”
CalMac has apologised for the disruption, with head of operations (North) Robert Morrison saying: “We believe the best solution within the resources we currently have to deliver reliable services.
“With only a limited number of major vessels in the fleet, when one is unexpectedly out of service we need to use the resources that we have to maintain reliable operations to every community that depends on us.
“We understand that this will cause disruption to the communities on North Uist and Harris which we apologise for. It is however we believe the best solution within the resources we currently have to deliver reliable services.
A spokesman for Government agency Transport Scotland said: “Whilst this is an operational matter for CalMac, we understand the frustration of the communities that rely on their ferry services.
“The issues caused by the extended dry dock of the MV Clansman are regrettable and CalMac is doing all it can to manage the situation by reshuffling the fleet to ensure lifeline services are maintained to all the communities they serve in the Western Isles.
“As always in situations like this, CalMac explore all options available to them. This includes short-term leasing, but availability of suitable vessels is limited.”