The Scottish Tories yesterday accused the government of letting down island communities due to the “scandal” of repeated ferry delays and cancellations.
Highland MSP Donald Cameron said communities were facing a “ferry crisis” as he led a Holyrood debate highlighting ageing vessels, delayed replacements and mechanical breakdowns.
The Conservatives produced figures which suggested there had been more than 82,000 delays and cancellations since the SNP came to power in 2007.
Mr Cameron said: “It is hugely regrettable we have to revisit an issue that is fast becoming a scandal that should shame this government.
“For too long, my constituents across the Highlands and islands have endured a ferry service that is wholly unreliable, and has had little flexibility.”
Earlier, Tory transport spokesman Jamie Greene told the chamber there had been 1,800 cancellations across the CalMac network in 2009/10.
Last year the number had risen to more than 4,400 – an increase of 130%.
In 2009/10 there were 2,000 delays. That rose to 5,500 – an increase of 160%.
Mr Greene said: “Half of our fleet is beyond its life expectancy, new vessels are years late to enter service and there is simply no long-term strategy to replace these ageing vessels.”
Opposition MSPs also expressed concern about the delays to the two new vessels being built on the newly nationalised Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde.
And Mr Greene said the ageing fleet and docks were not geared up for winter, pointing out that taking vessels out of service for maintenance had an impact elsewhere in the service.
Despite this, a majority of MSPs rejected the Tory motion expressing concern about the state of the service and its detrimental impact on island economies.
MSPs led by the SNP voted by 63 to 46 for an amendment saying £2 billion had been invested by the Scottish Government in the service and pointing out that there had been a 16.1% increase in passengers since 2012.
Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse claimed there had been a “significant improvement” when it came to reliability in the last year.
“It is important to record that performances have already improved,” he said. “The actual reliability for all CalMac sailings for this period – January to September 2019 which also takes into account weather disruption is 97%, which is an improvement of 0.5 percentage points when compared with the same period last year.”