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'Fix the ferries' demand from Highland MSP to Scottish Government over CalMac breakdown 'crisis' that has hit Ross-shire route amongst others

By Hector MacKenzie

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The MV Loch Seaforth ferry on the Ullapool-Stornoway route. Picture: Alan Jamieson from Aberdeen, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
The MV Loch Seaforth ferry on the Ullapool-Stornoway route. Picture: Alan Jamieson from Aberdeen, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

A HGHLAND MSP has today issued a "fix the ferries" demand to transport chiefs as pressure mounts over reduced capacity, increased demand from visitors and the prospect of islanders being denied essential travel.

Rhoda Grant made her remarks after writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport to demand the Scottish Government urgently step in "and fix the ferries crisis currently hammering the Scottish islands".

Mrs Grant, a long-term critic of the Scottish Government’s "mismanagement and lack of investment" in the ferry network, said Caledonian MacBrayne is currently missing two new ferries which it had hoped to have in place while the Loch Seaforth – which links Ullapool and Stornoway – has been out of commission for months.

The Isle of Lewis, which also broke downover the weekend has been pulled from its route to Barra.

Ullapool – Stornoway ferry return is delayed again

She said: "Covid has required that capacity on the already stretched ferries be seriously reduced, for example removing use of mezzanine decks.

“We are now in peak summer season. Tourists from across the UK are trying to flee to the islands, choking the services and preventing island residents from being able to travel themselves –often for medical appointments or to reach sick or injured relatives on the mainland or on other islands. Supplies are frequently running low with many of the islands reporting shortages in supermarkets and delays to deliveries.

“Everyone has been very patient with the situation but it is at crisis point and requires immediate Government intervention.”

In her letter, Mrs Grant suggested that the Scottish Government assign priority spaces for island residents, for both compassionate and medical grounds, and bring in an available vessel from the North of Scotland to help supplement the beleaguered fleet until the very overdue new vessels currently in drydock were launched.

She said: “It is abundantly clear that Scottish islanders are not receiving the lifeline service to which they are entitled and that this situation needs addressed urgently.”

Mrs Grant also requested a meeting with the CalMac managing director in order to identify required improvements to the service given to island communities.

Ahead of the meeting she said, “Operationally CalMac is a fantastic service and has gone above and beyond for island communities. But there is a massive disconnect with the strategic planning and investment, which can only be identified as, at best, Scottish Government showing apathy for Scotland’s islands and at worst wilful disdain.

“For years communities have been telling the SNP that their ferry network is not fit for purpose and needs investment, but of course ministers who rarely, if ever, leave the central belt think they know best. They have utterly ignored the needs-based cases put forward by island leaders; and so here the mess has come home to roost.

“Breakdowns have been getting more frequent, the ferries are becoming steadily less reliable or less available to those who truly need them. If Scottish Government think that this is just going to go away with some wishful thinking and crossed fingers then they are in for a shock.”

Last week, CalMac managing director, Robbie Drummond, said of the Ullapool link: “This is frustrating news, as we were expecting to see the Loch Seaforth return to service sooner than this. We will continue to work closely with customers to keep them updated of the latest situation and to minimise further disruption.”

In the meantime, replacement ferries and timetables will be in operation.

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