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Conservatives predict 2023 will be worst year yet for ferry cancellations

The unfinished Glen Sannox Caledonian Macbrayne ferry in the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde (PA)
The unfinished Glen Sannox Caledonian Macbrayne ferry in the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde (PA)

The Scottish Conservatives believe statistics will one day show 2023 to be the worst year on record for CalMac ferry cancellations caused by technical failures in what the party has termed “a betrayal of island communities”.

New figures obtained by the party through a freedom of information (FOI) request appear to show there were 1,689 cancellations between January 1 and May 16 this year due to technical issues.

The six-month sum is only 141 away from the 1,830 call-offs recorded for technical reasons in the whole of 2022, prompting the Scottish Conservatives to predict the total amount for 2023 will be far higher.

Overall a total of 11,301 sailings were cancelled in 2022 due to technical problems, bad weather or other unspecified reasons, according to the FOI response.

It goes on to state there were a further 4,606 cancellations between January 1 and May 16 this year – 1,689 for technical reasons, 1,465 for poor weather and 1,452 for reasons not declared.

The Conservatives calculate if the same rate is repeated all year the total number of cancellations in 2023 could reach as many as 12,360.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson MSP said that under the SNP the average age of Scotland’s ferries had “ballooned” to 24 years, with a third of its fleet believed to be around 30 years old.

He said continued delays to the completion of two new vessels being built by the nationalised Ferguson Marine yard had also contributed to the perceived decline in services.

It is estimated the Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa vessels will have a £360 million price tag by completion, compared with an initial estimate of £97 million.

The expected delivery date of the Glen Sannox was March next year, and for the Glen Rosa May 2025, but it emerged earlier this month that they could face a further two-month delay.

Mr Simpson said: “This SNP Government’s abject failure to maintain and upgrade vital lifeline ferry services has been a betrayal of island communities.

“And that neglect is now coming home to roost, with a fleet that is now, on average, quarter of a century old.

“These ageing vessels are breaking down much more often – there were nearly as many cancellations for technical reasons by May this year as there were in the whole of 2022, which was the second worst year ever.

“This SNP Government has been rightly derided over its abysmal failure to commission and produce two new ferries.

“But its record on the basic management of other services has been every bit as bad, with terrible results for local communities, for tourism, and for Scotland’s economy.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson responded: “Statistics between October 1, 2022 and May 16, 2023 show of the 98,267 scheduled sailings across the Caledonian and Hebrides Ferry Service network 7,286 were cancelled.

“Of the scheduled sailings, 1,549 were cancelled due to technical issues and 3,541 were cancelled due to weather.

“Scottish Ministers fully recognise that every cancelled sailing can have a significant impact on our island communities. The provision of safe and reliable lifeline ferry services is crucial to delivering the confidence needed to sustain island communities, businesses and populations.

“We continue to work with CalMac and CMAL to bring resilience to the network. The introduction of the MV Loch Frisa and short term charter of MV Arrow are examples of this.

“In addition, the extended charter of the MV Alfred to the CalMac fleet, has been welcomed and is providing much needed resilience during annual overhaul and service disruptions.

“We have also commissioned two new vessels for Islay as well as two new vessels for the Little Minch routes and progressed investment in key ports and harbours.”