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‘I have lost a month’s mortgage’: Ferry users speak out about the impact of cancellations to Uist

Islanders are calling for contingency plans. Picture supplied by CalMac.
Islanders are calling for contingency plans. Picture supplied by CalMac.

A call is being made for CalMac to have contingency plans in place that will reduce the impact of cancelled ferries to islanders.

Uist ferry services have been cancelled after the North Uist ferry ran into a pier while the South Uist ferry is unavailable as it is away for planned repairs.

Islanders say that the impact is that they have been left without essential supplies and money from the tourist economy.

CalMac says that an alternative route is in place.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Rupert Marshall, who runs a bed and breakfast on South Uist, said: “It just is really hopeless. We have lost our ferry service for over four months in the 12 months which seems unbelievable in any other situation.

CalMac have been asked to have a contingency plan.

“We have lost it for a week, and now we have have lost the North Uist ferry. We have, essentially, had no food deliveries for a few days now. To say nothing of the vital income that only comes in, in the summer.”

“The North Uist ferry ran into pier which clearly wasn’t terribly helpful, the South Uist one needed to go for repair.

‘Why are islanders worth less to the Scottish government?’

“The key thing is contingency planning – CalMac need to have a plan for every ship – should it break down,” he continued.

Mr Marshall suggested that CalMac needed to be better organised and should create a plan for the loss of every individual ship to the network.

He continued: “Within a couple of hours [of the loss of both ferries] I had lost the equivalent of a month’s mortgage in bookings being cancelled.

“It is a short season on the islands. We make money in five or six months and it is during that time that we make enough to last us the full year.

“Why are islanders worth less to the Scottish government? If the A9 was closed for a week every effort would be made to reopen it. At least there is an alternative route, if lengthy.

Donald Cameron MSP.

“This is a marine road there are no alternatives.”

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: “I have heard of travel agents scrapping itineraries which include the Western Isles because they cannot risk clients being unable to travel around the islands.

“This is a deeply alarming development but sadly a consequence of the numerous ferry cancellations and chronic disruption we see now on a daily basis.

“We are rapidly approaching peak visitor season on which many island communities rely, yet we still await an announcement from ministers on how they plan to help.”

Sailings cancelled

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.

MV Hebrides at Lochmaddy. File photo: CalMac

“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.”

A CalMac spokeswoman said: ” Essential services such as food will absolutely be transported, all lifeline services are being prioritised. These deliveries will be made.

“Our customer service team have been working their way through lots of calls since this happened and are working hard to help move passengers and help them with their specific needs.

“We’ve had to redeploy boats as we have no spares to help when this happens. This is a really tough decision to take but it’s the only way we can make sure that all islands continue to have a service.

“We really do care about communities and passengers and this is a terrible situation for them, we’re doing everything we can to help.”

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