Health bosses have demanded a complete change of crew for a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry hit by Covid-19.
The MV Isle of Lewis is undergoing deep cleaning after three crew tested positive for coronavirus.
The CalMac ferry normally operates on the Oban to Barra run, and the incident occurred over a crew change period as a group of seafarers joined the ship last week while others went on leave.
At least 18 personnel work on the vessel at any one time.
The MV Isle of Lewis covered the Stornoway – Ullapool route for two weeks, departing to Barra, her usual port, on Thursday. The ship is being deep cleaned in Oban.
The ship’s crew are being sent home while a full replacement team will take over. But that is taking time to source staff at short notice.
The original intent was to deploy a handful of personnel to relieve the affected members, but NHS Western Isles wanted a full crew change.
Contingency arrangements to provide a service for Barra today have been drawn up.
The first positive result from a crew member emerged earlier on Saturday. The individual had left the vessel on leave on Wednesday, after completing their scheduled period of duty, it is believed.
Two others also showed symptoms and took tests. They were confirmed as positive later in the day.
At the same time, NHS Western Isles confirmed a cluster of three positive coronavirus cases was identified in the islands without referring to the ferry outbreak.
One individual is self isolating in Lewis while the other two are isolating outwith the Outer Hebrides said the health board.
Everyone who has been identified as a close contact has been traced and asked to self-isolate for 14 days, said NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson.
Mr Jamieson said a Test and Protect team of contact tracers had been exceptionally busy in the last 24 hours and “a significant number of people” were now in 14-day self-isolation.
In an update, the Cal Mac said: “We have been in extensive discussions with the Western Isles health board who as part of the Test and Protect programme have advised us that a full crew change is now required on MV Isle of Lewis as a precautionary measure as a result of the three positive cases related to the vessel.
“The vessel is currently alongside in Oban being deep cleaned.
“Our crewing department are currently working on getting a full replacement crew.”
The new cases come after a gap of a fortnight from the previous cases, less than a week after the Western Isles achieved Level One status giving people fewer restrictions than the vast majority of the UK and despite repeated pleas from NHSWI for people to stick to the rules.
It’s understood that the total number of positive Covid-19 cases on the islands since the start of the pandemic, stands at 64 – with 50 from South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, one in North Uist, and 13 in total from Lewis.