With a massive outbreak of déja vu, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has today (Thursday May 19) called for the chartering of MV Pentalina to cope with the crisis facing Uist with both its mainland ferry services at a standstill and no space on the MV Loch Seaforth even if the traffic could somehow have crossed the Sound of Harris.
It was almost literally the same story at this time last year - except it was the MV Loch Seaforth breakdown which precipitated the crisis - and the MV Pentalina was even tested by CalMac Ferries before the entire idea was burned off by the RMT union who made all sorts of claims about the safety record of the vessel.
It's probably more likely that Taylor Swift will play centre-forward for Rangers than the RMT would change its mind over the Pentalina.
Nonetheless, CnES says that "with MV Hebrides being withdrawn from service after the vessel struck Lochmaddy pier on Wednesday 18 May, the scenario that islanders have feared for so long in the ongoing ferry crisis that has impacted our lifeline services for at least the last five years has now arrived.
"The community of Uist is left without a ferry service to the mainland with both MV Hebrides withdrawn from her service to Uig on Skye and MV Lord of the Isles in Greenock for repairs rather than on her service from Lochboisdale to Mallaig."
Tarbert is also without a service to the mainland which at this time of year spells doom for the tourism industry.
CnES says: "Islanders have long made clear the need for greater urgency on addressing the need to order new ferries. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar set out a blueprint for the Western Isles ferry service network that should offer Government a simple plan to follow.
"It is for a Western Isles Network made up of six large ferries with two deployed to serve Stornoway and a dedicated ferry on the routes from Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay plus two smaller ferries to serve the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra.
"Dedicated ferries will provide greater capacity and frequency in normal times and resilience will improve with the ability to cover any breakdown or dry dock maintenance within this network.
"The operations and management of this network should be based within the Western Isles and there should be an increased focus on recruiting crew locally.
"The design is now in place for the two new ferries on order for Islay and this design would seem to offer a good fit for the dedicated ferries needed to Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Castlebay without any departure from that design.
"It should therefore be possible to quickly order these three ferries. A variant of this design would be appropriate for Lochboisdale. This investment along with the delivery of Hull 802 - which could be retained to serve Lochmaddy or used as second ferry on Stornoway - would allow the Western Isles network to be put in place giving the islands security of connectivity and year round resilience. This could reasonably be achieved within three years.
"Comhairle nan Eilean Siar do not believe the Western Isles can wait three years or even the two years before 802 is in service to improve summer capacity and are seeking urgent action from Government to charter MV Pentalina on a bare boat charter basis with the crew provided by Calmac.
"The vessel is available on this basis and could be in service this Summer. Chartering Pentalina would provide vessel cover in the network for Summer 2022 and will allow Lochmaddy to maintain the 10 services a week needed when Uig pier is closed for five months from October."
Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure, Cllr Uisdean Robertson said, “The Scottish ferry crisis is being experienced by islanders every day. It is not a newspaper headline, it is a harsh reality and we need Government to take decisive steps to secure the future of the islands their ferry contract is supposed to serve. While our call is for investment in new ferries, this is still jam tomorrow.
"We need to see urgency and it is time for Government to put their money where their mouth is in terms of taking short-term action. It is clear finding second hand vessels is difficult but there is one ferry available today that has been tested on a number of routes. Both Transport Scotland and Calmac were happy to see MV Pentalina join the fleet on the basis of a crewed charter from Pentland Ferries so there cannot be any reasonable argument for not chartering this vessel on the basis of it being crewed by Calmac.
"Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are calling on Scottish Government to stop making excuses and act now by chartering MV Pentalina at least until MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are in service.”
Calmac Ferries say: "Due to MV Hebrides making contact with Lochmaddy Pier and to allow for further investigations, all sailings today have been cancelled. Investigations are ongoing regarding the extent of the repair required and we will provide updates regarding services for Friday 20 May onwards by 1700 today.
"No alternative route is available via Ullapool-Stornoway today as sailings are fully booked.
Last year, ferry bosses first inquired about chartering Pentalina on March 26 - nearly three weeks before the engine failure on MV Loch Seaforth, which caused seven weeks of chaos across Scotland's lifeline ferry network.
Reports at the time stated that Calmac trials found the MV Pentalina would be able to operate the following routes.
- Ardrossan to Brodick – only from the Irish berth
- Oban-Craignure – while she could offer an island based service, extended turnaround times from single-ended operation means she could not meet summer or winter timetable
- Ullapool-Stornoway – Maritime and Coastal Agency (MCA) wave and wind safety restriction on the vessel means that services in the winter may be less resilient.
- Oban-Port Askaig – would offer additional resilience but is currently not a scheduled route.
SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, said: “I understand that mishaps do happen from time to time. However, we cannot have a situation where all of Uist is left without a ferry service to the mainland from either of its ferry ports.
“I spoke to CalMac’s Managing Director earlier this afternoon and sought assurances about Uist being covered by an adequate vessel redeployment plan.
“Last night’s incident underlines the pressing need for more resilience in CalMac’s fleet. Uist cannot be left in the vulnerable situation of having one of its two ferry ports down at any time or this will happen again.”