A new-state-of-the-art life saving system is being fitted to the MV Loch Portain during its annual refit this year.

The new Maritime Evacuation System (MES) will be obvious to regular passengers as it is located on the passenger deck rather than car deck.

The new equipment will significantly speed up the vessel's evacuation in the event of an emergency.

CalMac's director of operations, Drew Collier said: “Safety is our number one priority and we are anxious to fit the most up to date safety equipment on the market within our vessels. This new MES system can give passengers and crew the reassurances that they can rely on the most technically advanced system available in the unlikely event of an emergency.”

Alongside the safety upgrade and general servicing and the Loch Portain is also being fitted with a new passenger lift from the car deck to the upper decks improving accessibility throughout the vessel. The work is being carried out at Cammell Laird in Liverpool.

The MV Loch Bhrusda is filling in for the vessel on its regular Berneray Leverburgh route until its return to service at the end of February.

The replacement vessel has a smaller vehicle capacity and although the crossing is less busy at this time of year, passengers are urged to book well ahead if possible.

“The winter annual refit period is always a challenge for us as we do not have like-for-like replacements for every ship and we have to find a way of maintaining services with the resources available to us,” said Mr Collier.

“The upgrade work to the Loch Portain means it is off-route longer than usual and we thank people for their patience while this improvement work is done. I'm sure passengers will notice a difference to their sailing experience particularly with the new lift being installed when the vessel returns.”

Check sailing availability on the route at www.calmac.co.uk