Calmac launch probe after £43 million ferry crashes into pier

The MV Loch Seaforth which serves the Stornoway to Ullapool route has been cancelled today
The MV Loch Seaforth which serves the Stornoway to Ullapool route has been cancelled today

CalMac has launched a probe after its £43million flagship ferry with more than 250 people onboard collided with a pier.

The MV Loch Seaforth’s bow doors were damaged in Sunday’s incident, resulting in major disruption for passengers at the start of the busiest week of the month for the ferry company.

This is the third serious disruption in as many months on the route.

CalMac’s own advisory board has called for more investment in the fleet to provide additional ships as a contingency measure.

Yesterday’s sailings were extremely busy with a high volume of bookings as people travel in both directions at the start of the October school holidays.

Many islanders were also heading off for the Royal National Mod in Dunoon.

The incident caused knock-on delays to the ferry service for Harris and Uist yesterday as the MV Hebrides’ crew worked additional hours after waiting in Tarbert for diverted Stornoway traffic.

The MV Loch Seaforth’s bow doors were out of action so cars had to turn around to exit the vessel. The ship had to berth astern in Stornoway harbour.

Massive upheaval resulted for travellers on Sunday with the cancellation of the afternoon run from Lewis. Mainland bound traffic was diverted via Tarbert and Skye causing delays on that route.

Repairs to the Seaforth were made in the evening but there was a further delay until official permission was granted from maritime authorities to allow the vessel to proceed to sea for an overnight sailing.

Travellers stranded in Ullapool were cold and tired and hit out at the lack of updates, maintaining they were kept in the dark about what was happening.

They had an 11 hour delay.

Angus Campbell, chairman of CalMac Community Board, said: “There is no resilience in the fleet.

“CalMac needs more investment in the fleet to replace vessels when things go wrong.”

A CalMac spokesman said: “An incident at Stornoway harbour on Sunday resulted in a closure issue with the MV Loch Seaforth’s bow doors.

“The cause of this is still under investigation.

“After successfully closing the doors and obtaining necessary permissions to sail from insurers and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) the vessel departed at 11pm.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this delay may have caused passengers.”

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesperson said: “The MCA’s Survey and Inspection, Counter Pollution and Enforcement and the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) were all notified of this incident.”

Demand for answers over terms of PFI deal for ‘unreliable’ service

Scottish Government ministers are being urged to “come clean” on the terms of the PFI deal under which the ferry MV Loch Seaforth is sub-leased by CalMac.

The move comes after the largest ferry in the CalMac fleet suffered its third mechanical failure in weeks.

Scottish Labour said the private finance deal which produced the ferry means the route is “now hostage for decades to come to the performance of a vessel which is showing alarming signs of unreliability at a very early stage in its life”.

The ferry service between Stornoway and Ullapool will cost taxpayers at least £67 million by 2022 – but bankers will still own the 700-passenger ship, it has been claimed.

The MV Loch Seaforth was leased by ferry operator CalMac from banking giant Lloyds in 2014, with transport chiefs initially keeping details of the taxpayer-funded deal secret.

But it has emerged the eight-year lease will cost around £36m, on top of £31m spent on upgrading harbours to accommodate the boat.

Lloyds Bank now owns the £43m ship and leases it to the Caledonian Maritime Assets, which manages the ferries.

Labour candidate Alison MacCorquodale said: “We now need to know the terms of the SNP’s deal with Lloyd’s Bank who own the Loch Seaforth.

“Who is responsible for maintenance and in the event of breakdown or serious failure, where does responsibility lie for ensuring alternative provision?”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “As the minister for energy, connectivity and the islands has stated in parliament, a full tender process for a lease arrangement was undertaken by Caledonian Maritime Assets in line with European Union procurement rules.

“That resulted in the award of the contract to Lloyds Banking Group as its tender was assessed as the most economically advantageous.

“In October 2017 Audit Scotland published its report to parliament, ‘Transport Scotland’s ferry services’.

“The report included comment on the MV Loch Seaforth procurement, but having concluded its analysis of this and other procurement decisions, Audit Scotland did not raise anything of concern regarding the procurement of the MV Loch Seaforth.

“The Scottish Government therefore has no plans to investigate the financing of the MV Loch Seaforth.”