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‘Worst in living memory’: Western Isles residents say CalMac ferry delays are risking jobs

Donald Maclean, manager at Barratlantic. Picture by Murdo Maclean.
Donald Maclean, manager at Barratlantic. Picture by Murdo Maclean.

Western Isles residents are calling for more use of weather windows to get goods on and off islands.

Calling the current timetable cancellations the “worst in living memory”, Barra’s biggest employer Barratlantic, run by Donald Joseph MacLean, said if things continue there may be a threat to jobs.

The issue for islanders is the ferry from Oban brings everything to the island. Cancellations on the route mean that food waiting to come to the island can be wasted, leaving islanders without supplies.

It can cause difficulties when it comes to getting medicine and other essential items to the community.

Fish can be left to rot if the ferry does not run

But it also means that goods from the islands, including high value fish products are left to rot on the island, as they cannot get to markets in the UK and Europe in time.

While islanders understand there is a safety issue if a ship’s master says a vessel cannot operate, they say the problem is compounded as there is less resilience on the route.

Castlebay in Barra.

The ferries that serve the island are described by islanders as “old”, and two new vessels due to provide some slack on the system have never arrived. The new vessels were meant to be launched in 2018.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday morning, Mr MacLean said: “We rely 100 % on the ferry services, we are the biggest employers on the island, if the ferry decides not to go then it causes us huge problems.

“It is the worst I have known it. The worst in living memory.

“CalMac need to look at the weather window and make best use of them. There has to be huge changes, and it needs to happen as soon as possible.

“If the ferry decides it is not going to come for a week, then people are without urgent supplies.”

Western Isles Council has previously hit out at CalMac over “decimated” ferry services.

Weather windows

CalMac ferries are a vital mode of transport for many island communities

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We will always use weather windows whenever possible to operate untimetabled services.

“During the recent periods of extremely poor weather, we took advantage of these opportunities so that essential services such as food deliveries could get to the islands and passengers could complete their journeys.

“Our services are completely stretched and unfortunately, we do not have any spare vessels we can use during times of technical issues.

“We work closely with CMAL and Transport Scotland as they look to source more tonnage, and we look forward to welcoming new vessel MV Loch Frisa to the network this year.

“We understand how much our customers rely on lifeline ferry services, and our utmost priority is getting ferries working as they should be at what is a really difficult time for our communities.”


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