More than 30 articulated truck loads of goods and equipment are backed up and waiting because the capacity crisis on the Stornoway ferry crossing, says Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The Loch Seaforth is due to start her annual overhaul today (Thursday 22 October) and this is scheduled to be complete by Monday 2 November. So the MV Isle of Lewis has tried to pick up the cross-Minch service along with MV Hebridean Isles, which is to run a twice-daily freight service during the overhaul period. Weather disruption has meant a series of sailings have been missed.
Last week the leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Councillor Roddie Mackay, called on CalMac to rethink their vessel allocation and provide a better freight service with higher capacity. “People plan their businesses around scheduled freight services. The high-handed disregard for service users is appalling. Calmac are removing the Loch Seaforth with capacity for 20 artic loads and replacing it with the Hebridean Isles with a capacity of five artic loads.
“Even with two overnight freight runs they only provide half of what they are removing …. the obvious thing to do is to have the Isle of Lewis do the freight run and the Hebridean Isles do one of the day runs.”
On 7 November the Hebridean Isles herself is set to go into drydock for her annual overhaul.
Now Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has urged Cal-Mac to charter another vessel, the Pentalina, to ease freight capacity on the Stornoway/Ullapool ferry route.
Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, said: “The expected problem of freight capacity on the Stornoway/Ullapool Route has materialised. The inclement weather has added to the problem and it appears that the weekend weather could further exacerbate this difficult situation.
“The Comhairle has made a number of suggestions to Cal-Mac on how to help make the dry-dock period of the Loch Seaforth less of a costly exercise to the community.
“The current situation is having a hugely detrimental impact on the local economy. We are sitting at the moment with a backlog of 30+ Artic loads including supermarket supplies, house kits etc. and some companies being told they can’t move certain loads until next week, as they are deemed a low priority by Cal-Mac.
"We now hear concerns that the aquaculture sector may be impacted as fish cannot be shipped. Hardly an ideal situation to be in in the current climate.
“The Pentalina is currently available following a period on charter to Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks in Orkney and will fit the link-spans at both Stornoway and Ullapool. Such a move would also be a positive opportunity to test the suitability of the Pentalina on West Coast routes.”
The Pentalina is currently in Kirkwall. She started service on the Pentland Firth crossing in 2008 and is designed for rough seas north of Scotland.
Operator Pentland Ferries says: "Since the introduction of MV Alfred to the crossing between St Margaret’s Hope and Gills Bay, the MV Pentalina has, for most, remained on standby. We are now open to opportunities for any suitable charter work in the UK. The MV Pentalina is fully certified to operate anywhere in Europe and has capacity for 247 passengers and eight articulated lorries. It can also carry dangerous goods."
In September the Pentalina was chartered by SSEN as part of the £30 million subsea cable installation from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, by principal contractor, McGowan Environmental Engineering Ltd.
Andrew Banks of Pentland Ferries said: “The MV Pentalina was perfectly suited to transport the machinery from our Scottish mainland port at Gills Bay to Hoy. With its large open deck, the ship can accommodate a large quantity of plant equipment in one sailing, and the vehicles and equipment could easily be driven on board at Gills Bay and off at Hoy’s Lyness harbour."