MSPs were loud in their protests today (Wednesday May 11) when yet another of CalMac's ageing fleet of ferries had to be taken out of service - leaving Lochboisdale once again holding the Olympic Torch, the one that never goes out!
This certainly distracted them for their pursuit of the missing papers from almost a decade ago, which would prove who signed off the Ferguson ferries order, a completely pointless distraction in the current and recurring crisis.
Earlier CalMac ferries stated that the MV Lord of the Isles will be withdrawn from service on Tuesday 17 May to allow for essential planned repairs to be carried out to her drencher system.
This means that the Mallaig-Lochboisdale service will be suspended for an estimated eight days.
Passengers booked on this route from 17 May are being contacted and space will be offered via Lochmaddy where possible, with lifeline services being prioritised.
As a result, a sailing will operate from Lochboisdale on Tuesday morning and all other Mallaig-Lochboisdale sailings in this period will be cancelled.
Fiona Galbraith, Area Operations Manager for the Hebrides, said: “Every effort will be made to complete this work in the shortest time possible to ensure the disruption of service to our community is minimised. We have explored options to deploy a relief vessel to Lochboisdale for the affected period but unfortunately this is not possible, as all our fleet is operating a timetabled service elsewhere in the network for the summer period.
“I fully understand the impact this will have on our community during this period and would like to reassure everyone that these works are necessary to provide resilience and reliability to MV Lord of the Isles going forward.”
MV Lord of the Isles is currently operating under a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) approved safety case since the issue with her deck drencher system was identified during her routine overhaul – allowing her to remain in service while all possible options of an in-service repair were explored.
The drencher system is a firefighting safety system serving the car deck area and is required for MCA certification to operate. This planned maintenance is required to ensure this system is operating to its full capability, ensuring continuity of service throughout peak summer.
SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, has called in Parliament for the Transport Minister to press CalMac for urgent improvements to ferry services from Lochboisdale. Allan said: “South Uist far too often draws the short straw when one of CalMac’s ageing vessels succumbs to another technical issue. Islanders have already experienced severe disruption in recent months, with Lochboisdale, for example, ending up without a ferry service for almost the entirety of the month of March.
“I today again raised in Parliament the frustration of islanders who are once again facing significant disruption to their lifeline service, and Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth agreed to speak with CalMac directly about this issue. It is my hope that a plan to meaningfully improve South Uist’s ferry service can be identified and enacted sooner rather than later, as the current situation cannot go on like this indefinitely.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSPs Jamie Halcro Johnston and Donald Cameron have reacted with anger. Mr Halcro Johnston, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Business and Tourism Minister, commented: “It is incredibly worrying that just as the tourism season gets into full swing this crucial crossing is suspended with less than a week’s notice.
“This is further evidence, if any were needed, that the ferry crisis is far from over and that our island communities stand to face even more months of disruption while the vital tourism and hospitality sector pays the price.”
Mr Cameron added: “This is the inevitable outcome of the neglect of CalMac’s ageing fleet and the botched contract for replacement ferries, and blame for this lies fairly and squarely with the SNP Government.
“I find it utterly extraordinary that not a single SNP minister has taken any responsibility for this utter failure to discharge their duty of care to our island communities.”