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‘Stop making excuses and act now’: Western Isles Council hits out after ferry pier crash causes chaos

The MV Hebrides in Lochmaddy
The MV Hebrides in Lochmaddy

Western Isles Council has demanded action to resolve the ferry crisis after after a ferry hit and pier and was taken out of service.

The MV Hebrides was removed from service after the collision with Lochmaddy pier on North Uist last night.

CalMac confirmed the vessel underwent a temporary repair today so she could sail to James Watt Dock in Greenock for permanent repairs.

The timetable for the return of the ferry – which serves Skye, Harris and Uist – will be confirmed once a full assessment is carried out.

Due to the damage, all today’s sailings to Tarbert, Uig and Lochmaddy were cancelled.

Now CalMac has announced the MV Hebridean Isles will move from Islay to cover the Skye Triangle, with the MV Loch Bhrusda carrying out additional sailings on Barra-Eriskay.

The MV Isle of Arran will also be redeployed from the Adrossan-Brodick-Campbeltown route to cover the Kennacraig-Islay service.

Additional capacity is available on the Ullapool-Stornoway route tonight and Sunday, with an additional passenger sailing organised for Saturday night.

Islanders have ‘made clear’ urgency

But Western Isles Council said today’s chaos – which left those on Uist without a ferry – had confirmed what many islands have feared for the last five years.

It pushed for its ferry network plan to be adopted, urging Transport Scotland and CalMac to “act now”.

The local authority also called for the MV Pentalina to be chartered as vessel cover to cope with summer demand, while also allowing Lochmaddy to maintain the 10 services a week needed when Uig Pier closes for a five-month upgrade from October.

In a statement, the council said: “The community of Uist is left without a ferry service to the mainland with both MV Hebrides withdrawn from her service to Uig on Skye and MV Lod of the Isles in Greenock for repairs rather than on her service from Lochboisdale to Mallaig.

“Islanders have long made clear the need for greater urgency on addressing the need to order new ferries.”

The ferry ‘made contact’ with Lochmaddy Pier in North Uist on Wednesday night.

‘We sincerely apologise’

A spokeswoman for CalMac said: “This is a significant disruption for our communities, and we sincerely apologise for this at what is already a very difficult time for them with the loss of MV Lord of the Isles. Our immediate priority is to ensure lifeline services such as food supplies and urgent medical care can be transported.

“Removing vessels from routes is always a very difficult decision and one we would rather not make, but our options are extremely limited, and this is the only way to protect lifeline services at short notice. This redeployment means that all islands will continue to receive a service during this current disruption.

“We are keeping customers informed and will provide another update as soon as a full assessment of the required repairs has been completed in Greenock.”

Repairs to MV Lord of the Isles are progressing and it is expected to be back in service on the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route next week.

‘Dedicated ferries’ would provide greater capacity

In their push for the ferry plan to be adopted, the council said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar set out a blueprint for the Western Isles ferry service network that should offer government a simple plan to follow. It is for a Western Isles Network made up of six large ferries, with two deployed to serve Stornoway and a dedicated ferry on the routes from Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay plus two smaller ferries to serve the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra.

“Dedicated ferries will provide greater capacity and frequency in normal times and resilience will improve with the ability to cover any breakdown or dry dock maintenance within this network.”

The council want this network to be managed locally.

MV Hebrides leaving Uig. Pic: Shutterstock

It has said the design is in place for two new ferries on order for Islay, and suggests it would also be a “good fit” for the dedicated ferries needed to Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Castlebay – speeding up the process.

“A variant of this design would be appropriate for Lochboisdale,” the council said. “This investment along with the delivery of Hull 802 – which could be retained to serve Lochmaddy or used as second ferry on Stornoway – would allow the Western Isles network to be put in place giving the islands security of connectivity and year round resilience. This could reasonably be achieved within three years.”

‘Stop making excuses and act now’

Transport committee chairman Uisden Robertson said it was time for government to “stop making excuses”.

“The Scottish ferry crisis is being experienced by islanders every day,” he said.

“It is not a newspaper headline, it is a harsh reality and we need government to take decisive steps to secure the future of the islands that their ferry contract is supposed to service.

“We need to see urgency and it is time for government to put their money where their mouth is in terms of taking short term action.

“Both Transport Scotland and Calmac were happy to see MV Pentalina join the fleet on the basis of a crewed charter from Pentland Ferries so there cannot be any reasonable argument for not chartering this vessel on the basis of it being crewed by Calmac. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are calling on Scottish Government to stop making excuses and act now by chartering MV Pentalina at least until MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are in service.”

Transport Scotland said CalMac would continue to prioritise the delivery of essential supplies and exports of island products during the disruption.

A spokeswoman added: “Ministers recognise that having confidence in ferry services can impact upon people’s decision on whether to live and work on the islands, and impacts upon the sustainability of the island communities themselves.

“These human impacts are at the heart of Scottish ministers’ commitment to continued investment in ferry services across Scotland.

“We continue to charge CalMac Ferries Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd with seeking potential second hand tonnage to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes.

“The previous charters of MV Arrow and recent purchase of the MV Utne (now MV Loch Frisa) are evidence of this ongoing commitment to improve and support the existing fleet in this way.”