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With yet more ferry sailings between Tarbert and Uig cancelled today (Sunday June 12) while repairs are made to MV Hebrides, the people trying to use that often fully-booked route are getting a foretaste of the many months of closure planned for it from the autumn.

Some are facing overnight drives to meet additional sailings from Stornoway; some face seven hours of travelling to reach their destinations in Skye. 

As this is happening, Councillor Grant Fulton, who represents Na Hearadh ward on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has appealed direct to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. 

He tells the First Minister yesterday (June 11):  "I write to you as one of the Independent Councillors representing Harris in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

"I’m sure you are aware of the issues that we as a fragile island community are experiencing due to the mismanagement of our lifeline CalMac ferry service, however, I am unaware if you fully realise the impact of your Government's negligent decisions on the people and economy of Harris.

"There have been numerous meetings, “consultations” and reports generated regarding the disintegration of the CalMac service to and from Harris yet we are still sleepwalking towards a complete closure of our lifeline service between Tarbert and Uig. There is no sense of urgency from Transport Scotland or the Scottish Government.

"We will have no ferry service from October for an estimated 24 weeks. I’m sure that this time period will be extended. Would this be accepted in the Central Belt if the M8 was to be closed? Even if the M8 was to be closed there are alternative travel options.

"We have no solutions bar a cobbled together inept replacement wherein Harris residents will have to travel on the already oversubscribed Loch Seaforth from Stornoway to Ullapool.

"For residents of South Harris to take the early morning Stornoway Ferry it will necessitate them leaving home at 03:30. This is completely inappropriate and unsafe. If someone wants to visit relatives in Skye it will involve an extra 6 or 7 hours travel." Councillor Fulton points out that in the winter the roads will not have been gritted at that time in the morning.

"There have been numerous options suggested to alleviate this problem. A floating linkspan was mooted but it seems there is not the finance to implement this. Suggestions have also been made to use other ports as a destination from Tarbert.

"Local hotels are going to suffer, indeed one hotel owner has said that he will have to close his premises over the winter, a dire situation. We have an ageing demographic, many who require hospital treatment in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, this will be problematic.

"Shops, B & Bs, restaurants, catering vans and folk just wishing to travel are all going to be negatively impacted. No Economic Impact Evaluation has been carried out to assess how deeply this will affect our community.

"Aside from the closure issue we are receiving a sub-standard service. The unreliability of the ageing fleet is evident. I myself was due to sail on the MV Hebrides today. Due to another mechanical failure this journey has been cancelled.

"Mechanical failures are becoming more common and are impacting in a huge way on our community and businesses who rely heavily on the ferry for the tourist business and just for travelling. The ferry service is our motorway, it is our means of travelling but it’s becoming a luxury It is becoming almost impossible to plan to get away.

"Indeed many residents simply cannot get off the island from now till August due to the inadequate capacity on board the vessels.

"The mezzanine deck of the MV Hebrides has not been in use. Again this is put down to insufficient finance. A very sad indictment of what the Scottish Government thinks of Harris residents. You simply do not care.

"The complete lack of care, compassion and any sense of urgency regarding our current situation and the coming maelstrom due to the complete closure is staggering and bewildering.

"We need extra capacity in the fleet so that during the numerous breakdowns a replacement vessel can be provided.

"Historically, Hearachs were invested in CalMac, we felt the old MV Hebrides was “our” vessel. It was reliable, ran on time and it was always a joyous occasion for an islander returning home to see her steaming into Uig for their return to Harris.

"The complete lack of care, compassion and intelligent input is sad. We on the island feel disenfranchised, ignored and are becoming an increasingly marginalised area of Scotland. Please reverse this."