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Ferry operator CalMac has today (Friday April 30) reaffirmed that it is confident that the MV Loch Seaforth will be back in service on the Uallapool-Stornoway route in a matter of weeks and the normal summer timetable will be back up and running as planned

Meanwhile it says it is endeavouring to maintain essential lifeline services across all communities. Essential work to the MV Loch Seaforth has meant that vessels and timetables have been temporarily changed across some of the islands served by CalMac. 

Yesterday South Uist community landlord Stòras Uibhist issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the way that their ferry services had been treated.

"On behalf of the community of South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula, the directors of Stòras Uibhist wish to express their extreme disappointment of the latest disruption to our ferry service.

"As Stòras pointed out in February it is impossible to reach any conclusion other than South Uist is yet again the ‘forgotten island’ and that the route out of Lochboisdale can simply be sacrificed at the drop of a hat without any care for our community. Indeed it seems that CalMac have no interest whatsoever in our community’s economic and social wellbeing.

"Meanwhile if that were not enough, we now understand that the Lochmaddy to Uig route has been operating without its mezzanine level, reducing capacity and further impacting the ability of islanders to go about their daily lives and business.

"As a matter of urgency we call on CalMac, the Scottish government, our council, elected representatives and all other relevant parties to address the problem once and for all. Our islands have suffered enough during the last 14 months without further disruption and inconvenience simply because of one broken down ferry elsewhere on the CalMac network."

CalMac said a tailored combined timetable has been put in place to allow shellfish to be transported from Barra and South Uist to the mainland in time to get to fish markets. 

Meanwhile, the need for one of Arran’s two regular summer vessels to support vital freight services between Stornoway and Ullapool has led to a temporary reduction in sailings between Ardrossan and Brodick. 

However, extra provision to deal with the demand for Arran is being made available on the north end route onto the island from Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula to Lochranza. One extra vessel has been put in place to help compensate for the loss of the second ferry on the Brodick route.  

Claonaig can be accessed by the main road or via a short drive from Tarbert on Loch Fyne, which is served by the CalMac crossing from Portavadie on the Cowal peninsula. 

If CalMac cancel Ardrossan-Brodick bookings, passengers affected are entitled to receive the costs incurred for using the Claonaig route as an alternative. 

Planning and allocating spaces for commercial customers in advance has meant that CalMac is meeting the demand as it is presented for shipping at ports. 

Islanders who need to attend urgent medical appointments will always be accommodated on CalMac routes. This includes free taxi journeys to and from the ferry terminal and their NHS destination. This is in addition to a small number of Turn Up and Go (TUG) spaces, which are held back for people who need to travel at the last minute. 

A spokesperson said: "Work on the MV Loch Seaforth is progressing to plan and we are confident that full service will be resumed by May 18. This date is subject to change, and CalMac has pledged to keep customers informed throughout. 

"A specialist team of engineers is currently working with our team to carry out repairs to the vessel engines at the James Watt dock in Greenock."

Answering repeated local demands for action, CalMac says the former Pentland Ferries vessel MV Pentalina is not available to provide cover while work is ongoing as she is only available for active service on four weeks' notice. They are investigating with Transport Scotland the option of leasing the Pentalina on a longer-term hire to provide additional resilience across the network.  

Robbie Drummond, Managing Director, said: “Clearly, the loss of the MV Loch Seaforth and how this has affected other services has caused a lot of disruption to customers, and we are so sorry about this.

"We are working closely with local businesses to make sure that demand for travel is being met, and I am most grateful to them for their support, patience and understanding as we deal with this situation. 

“We are confident that the MV Loch Seaforth will be back in service in a matter of weeks and the normal summer timetable will be back up and running as planned.”