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Anger as CalMac cancels almost every ferry service to Lochboisdale in June

CalMac said it had capacity issues on the network.

Lochboisdale in South Uist.
Lochboisdale, South Uist. Image: Supplied.

CalMac has been accused of “robbing” businesses and communities of lifeline services after cancelling almost every service to Lochboisdale in June.

There was no consultation with beleaguered businesses on Uist before the operator decided to cut the islands ferry service for a month.

Councillors in the Western Isles have now told CalMac and it must “stop” the timetable changes now.

Yesterday CalMac announced yet another breakdown of a ferry on its network – and immediately cancelled services to South Uist.

Transport minister Kevin Stewart took no prisoners and told Calmac he was disappointed in the lack of communication with islanders,

A catamaran, the MV Alfred, that was brought onto the network, is unable to service the route due to the suitability of the piers.

Members of Western Isles Council have now drawn a line in the sand, saying the Gourock-based company had made the wrong decision asking the transport minister to step in.

‘Uist deserves better’

In a statement the council said “Uist deserves better”.

It added: “The South Uist community has suffered more than any other community as CalMac’s shambolic winter maintenance programme has seen vessel after vessel go to dry dock and return much later than scheduled.

“Lochboisdale has been left without a service or with a much-reduced service through Oban.

The Isle of Arran ferry in port at Lochboisdale.
The Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry, Isle of Arran at her berth in Lochboisdale, South Uist. Image Sandy McCook/ DC Thompson.

“This is sadly nothing new for South Uist which has seen the service delivered on the lifeline route fall far below the level of service that was ever provided by earlier generations of Caledonian MacBrayne. ”

In winter 2019-2020 statistics show that 67 out of 156 sailings did not operate.

In winter 2021-2022 the months of November, December, January, and March together saw only 21 Mallaig-Lochboisdale sailings operate – around one quarter of the timetabled number with a failure rate of 75%.

The statement continued: “Despite the commitment from the minister to work with the community in Uist, it would appear Calmac pay no more regard to the minister than they do the Uist community.”

Lord of the Isles ferry in the sea.
The Lord of the Isles was redeployed. Image: Allan Milligan.

Uisdean Robertson, transport spokesman for the authority, added: “The proposal to remove MV Lord of the Isles from service will rob Uist of 550 vehicle spaces, severely impacting every sector of the Uist economy at a time that business is trying hard to recover from the damage already visited on our island by the chaotic service provided by Calmac to Lochboisdale in recent months.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “CalMac think it is acceptable to remove Lochboisdale’s ferry less than a week after she finally resumed normal service – however, businesses and local people are, understandably, both incredulous and furious.

“To remove a service in its entirety for a month of the tourist season will have severe consequences, and what little confidence anybody had left in this route will be severely dented.”

‘Little attention to Islands Act’

“This insult added to injury cannot be allowed to go ahead and I would urgently ask the transport minister to step in and show he will not be a bystander to Uist’s suffering.

“The willingness to single out Uist for service reduction again serves to underline how little attention is paid to the Islands Act that lists the parent company of Calmac Ferries as a body with a duty to consider island community impact and not treat any island unevenly to favour others.

“Yet again a decision impacting Uist has been taken without consultation with the Comhairle or the people of Uist.

“This trend must stop now, it is time that individuals with the interests of Uist at heart are involved in discussions leading to such decisions.”

Minister for transport, Kevin Stewart said: “I have spoken directly with the David MacBrayne Limited (operator of CalMac) chairman to express my disappointment at how the communications have been handled.

“It is important that communities are fully engaged when further disruption comes so soon after just having services restored.

“I have been very clear with CalMac that they must continue to explore all avenues as I am fully aware from my visit last week the direct impact the loss of service is having on the community.”

CalMac said it had addressed the issues raised in a statement issued last night.

Transport Minister Kevin Stewart. Image: DC Thomson

In it, Robert Morrison, operations director for CalMac, said: “This was an extremely difficult decision and I understand that this will be disruptive for the local community and for customers who had planned to use this route.

“I apologise for the affect that this cancellation will have and can assure customers that we are working hard to get vessels back in service.

He continued: “MV Alfred has had a temporary repair carried out to her thruster – however, she cannot operate the published timetable as she is unable to operate to Kennacraig and would need to operate to either Troon or Campbeltown, which reduces the number of sailings that could be carried out.

“Therefore, the decision has been taken to retain her on the Arran service.”