CalMac is only providing two extra passenger sailings a week from Stornoway and Ullapool because if they provided more, and then the temporary addition of the freight vessel MV Arrow had to be withdrawn, many more people might be disappointed in their travel arrangements.
As a result of Transport Scotland intervention, MV Arrow joined CalMac on a short-term charter from 19 July to 7 September 2021. The vessel is operated by Seatruck on behalf of CalMac and is a dedicated freight service to the Ullapool/Stornoway route. The MV Arrow is providing MV Loch Seaforth's evening freight sailing six days a week - but the deal allows it to be withdrawn by the owners at 24 hours notice, potentially leaving CalMac with impossible numbers of passengers to provide replacement services for.
Now Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has written to Cal Mac asking them to increase passenger sailings with the MV Loch Seaforth.
With the announcement that the MV Arrow had been contracted in to provide freight ferry service for the beleaguered route, hopes were high that capacity could be freed up on the Loch Seaforth to restore some of the lifeline service for passengers, as well as relieving pressure from the height of the tourist season.
However Cal Mac confirmed that while the MV Arrow will be sailing six nights a week, and capacity would be freed up on existing sailings of the largest vessel in its fleet, the Loch Seaforth would only be able to provide two additional sailings a week.
When Mrs Grant questioned this decision she was advised that further sailings could not be provided because if they had to be cancelled at short notice, for instance if the MV Arrow was recalled, then it would cause too much disruption.
“It’s madness,” said Mrs Grant. “Demand for ferry space is at an all time high. Between tourists flocking to Scotland, and island residents trying to contend with such a limited capacity due to Covid, the need for ferry capacity is desperate.
“To plan for the worst eventuality at the cost of allowing people access to a lifeline service seems counter-intuitive.
"The MV Arrow is only available for a short while, we should be wringing the additional capacity for every space we can for as long as we can.
"Self-imposed limitations in case of cancellations through the summer months are not providing value for money, so I have written to Cal Mac asking them to reconsider and to increase their passenger sailings.”