There’s still at least two years to go until the Triangle route – Tarbert-Uig-Lochmaddy – gets its promised new ferry

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar today (Monday August 27th) expressed its frustration at the recent announcement that the new ferry to be allocated on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert route will not now be entering service until at least summer 2020.

And CnES suggests adequate resources should be made available to ensure the timetable slips no further.

The Comhairle is reacting to the recent announcement by Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, that two new vessels currently being built by Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd. – the MV Glen Sannox and ‘Vessel 802’ - are now scheduled for delivery during summer 2019 and spring 2020 respectively.

Councullor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said, “We were…delighted to hear in October 2014 of the Scottish Government’s intentions to build two new vessels, one of which was to be allocated on the routes to Harris and North Uist. 

“At that time, the delivery of the vessel was scheduled for early 2018 and since then representatives from the Comhairle have worked productively with colleagues from Transport Scotland, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) and CalMac Ferries Ltd to inform the design of the vessel and the scope, design and procurement of infrastructure improvements required at the Comhairle’s pier facilities at Lochmaddy to accommodate her.”

New facilities are also planned by Highland Council at Uig and by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) at Tarbert.

“There has been much speculation around timescales recently and whilst we recognise the benefits the building of the two new vessels on the Clyde will bring to the economy of that area and welcome that a handover date has now been confirmed by the responsible Cabinet Secretary, we are disappointed that there will a delay of now well over two years to the final availability”.

“This is a significant and critical issue for the islands in that the continuing lack of capacity during the peak summer period will mean continuing constraints to the growth of important business sectors in the islands such as tourism and aquaculture”.

“We urge the Government and CMAL to ensure that, going forward, sufficient resources are targeted to the build projects so that there is no further risk to the handover and in-service dates.”

Meanwhile the Comhairle has tentatively welcomed today’s announcement by Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson that £3.5m is to be invested by Scottish Government to reduce the risk of vessels breaking down and to return them to service quicker if they do.

Councillor Robertson said, “Our discussions with the previous Transport Minister confirmed that Transport Scotland were working with both Caledonian Maritime Assets and CalMac Ferries to identify ways and means to improve the resilience and reliability of what is obviously an ageing fleet.  We are pleased to see that some progress is being made”.

“Today’s announcement of a contribution of £3.5m is welcomed.  We await details of how this funding is to be spent but we are aware that, not only is an increasing number of vessels in the fleet becoming more expensive and time-consuming to maintain to the necessary standards because of their age, but the availability of parts and, in some cases, the need to manufacture or fabricate them from “scratch”, is proving to be a growing challenge for the operator”.

“Engineering solutions and a more resilient and reliable supply chain for critical parts will likely form part of the wider strategy and, although we do not envisage it to be affordable within the funding announced today, additional spare tonnage for utilisation in the event of disruptions, planned or otherwise, must also form part of the solution for the medium to longer terms”.