Rita CamFerry passengers between Barra and Oban suffered lengthy delays yesterday after a faulty linkspan saw the service being diverted via another island.
The “technical issue” at no2 linkspan in Oban meant the MV Isle of Lewis could not discharge its traffic and instead had to drop the passengers off at Craignure on Mull.
This meant a four-hour wait in Craignure before they could be taken in the smaller MV Clansman to Oban where it could dock at the terminal’s other linkspan.
It is the latest problem in a “summer of discontent” in which CalMac operated disrupted services to the Western Isles between April and June, when a break down of the MV Clansman resulted in a reshuffle of all the major vessels in the fleet.
And now issues with the Oban structure – which is the landing base for a ship’s car ramp – mean the Barra ferry cannot disembark vehicles until the fault is repaired.
The sailing from Castlebay, which normally leaves at 7.55am getting into Oban just before 1pm, didn’t leave until 1.30pm. Passengers then had to wait four hours between 6.20pm and 10.40pm before finally departing Mull, and were expected to arrive in Oban at 11.35pm last night.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: “It is ridiculous that CMAL have allowed such a situation to arise and worse that it is taking so long to sort.”
The problem arose on Monday, when Barra passengers first had to swap ships on Mull when the fault emerged.
Engineers from CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) were making attempts to fix the problem yesterday. The 6,753 gross tonnaged MV Isle of Lewis which sails from Barra does not fit the harbour’s other linkspan.
The Clansman fitted in the extra sailings as part of her Colonsay run.
Barra-based Councillor Donald Manford said: “Breakdowns happen but the arrangements that CalMac has put in place are far from good enough. Why didn’t she sail on time and go to either Uig or Craignure, let the traffic ashore and take the foot passengers to Oban? It’s only the linkspan that isn’t working, the foot passengers can still disembark in the normal manner. The vehicles could have then had the choice of getting off Mull via the Lochaline Fishnish ferry or one of the regular two ferries between Craignure and Oban.
“We still don’t know what’s happening tomorrow.”
Neil Mackay, vice chairman of Oban and Lorn Tourism Alliance added: “These ferries are crucial to tourism but they are also the lifeblood service of these islands.
“Issues are bound to happen but there needs to be continual and increasing investment in the infrastructure as well as the vessels.”
A spokesman for CalMac said: “A hydraulic issue with the linkspan at Oban has resulted in a change to the timetabled service for sailings to and from Barra.
“Port owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) are currently assessing the linkspan for repair. We apologise for any inconvenience this disruption may cause.”
Oban to Castlebay traffic left Oban on the Clansman at 4.30pm. Vehicles and passengers were discharged in Craignure where they boarded the Isle of Lewis, which departed at 6.30pm. They were due to arrive in Castlebay at around 10.45pm.
A spokeswoman for CMAL said: “The linkspan has experienced a mechanical fault. We are on-site with the linkspan designers, installers and engineers to investigate the problem and identify a solution. We will endeavour to resolve this as soon as possible to minimise disruption to ferry operations. We thank passengers for their patience.”