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Islands MSP highlights Barra ferry problems

Alasdair Allan
Alasdair Allan

The Scottish Government is being urged to consider chartering an extra vessel to help businesses in Barra which has gone ten days with just one ferry run to the mainland.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has highlighted the issue, caused by “inclement weather and poor fleet resilience”.

Mr Allan said the situation has left shops in Barra attempting to stock food via Eriskay, with perishables arriving days old. Other businesses, including seafood processors, are unable to ship fresh produce off the island on time.

The two main vessels suitable for the Oban-Castlebay route are in dry dock at the same time, with MV Isle of Lewis’s overhaul facing delays. Meanwhile, the two relief vessels, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Isle of Arran, have been struggling to cope during a period of rough weather.

Mr Allan said: “This is an exasperating situation for the people and businesses of Barra. Barra’s seafood industry has had lorries stranded even before they encounter similar problems further south.

“The lack of resilience within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Network is having real economic and human consequences. This situation is mirrored by last year, which saw several five-day periods with no mainland ferry sailings.

“I have asked the Scottish Government what they can do to consider chartering an additional vessel or other measures that might relieve the current strain on the fleet.”

He said other island ports, such as Lochboisdale, and Tarbert, are also suffering from the lack of suitable vessels.

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Scottish Ministers fully recognise the key role ferry services play in supporting the economic, social and cultural development of island and remote mainland communities. That is why this government set up a Resilience Fund in 2018/19 to invest in ferry services to ensure future reliability and availability of vessels. This has amounted to £7.5m between 2018 – 2020, with a further £3m allocated this financial year.

“We acknowledge customers’ frustrations during periods of disruption and remain committed to supporting vital lifeline services. That is why Ministers have tasked CalMac Ferries Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd with seeking potential second hand tonnage (this includes catamarans) to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes. To date no suitable second hand tonnage has been identified by either CalMac Ferries Ltd or Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd but their search continues.”

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