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West coast ferry operators Caledonian MacBrayne have been put in the position of ‘pitting island against island’ as they struggle to find the ‘least-worst’ solution to ferry disruption, according to Mull and Iona Ferry Committee.

Meanwhile Comhairle nan Eilean Siar welcomed the understanding being shown in Skye and Mull as ferry services there were being cancelled, retimed and reorganised using smaller vessels. 

The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee were responding yesterday (Wednesday 3 August) to news that the MV Isle of Mull is being redeployed to Uig today, with CalMac intending to use her to cover for the MV Hebrides.

Islanders in Harris and North Uist have another day without direct sailings to and from the mainland today, with all services on the Uig triangle cancelled due to a technical issue with MV Hebrides’ CO2 firefighting system.

MV Isle of Mull is repositioning today to operate services between Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy from tomorrow, though timetable details are not yet confirmed.

But that means a reduced capacity in sailings to and from Mull, with CalMac posting this advice at the peak of the holiday season: “We strongly recommend day trippers do not travel to Mull as reduced capacity from midday onwards may compromise your ability to return to the mainland.”

Changes to the Mull service come, according to that island’s ferry committee, ‘in the busiest week of the year.’

They said: “We have written to the managing and operations directors of CalMac, copying in Transport Scotland, our MSP and the transport minister:

“This zero-sum decision demonstrates yet again what an appalling state our ferry service is in. For the fleet to be so stretched and fragile, that this is the necessary ‘solution’ for a breakdown proves once again that there is a complete failure of strategy and delivery from government and its agencies.

“This will have a hugely damaging and disruptive impact on Muileachs and Mull businesses in the busiest week of the year.

“You have been put in the position of having to portion the damage delivered to each island; of having to find what can be presented as the least-worst outcome. In the process you are pitting island against island.

“It is simply unacceptable – but we know we have little option but to take it, just as you have little option but to enact it.

“There will be vocal and heart-felt complaints from Mull and Iona as a result of this, and they will be absolutely justified.

“Tour boats cancelling trips at the busiest time of the year; islanders unable to leave; valued tourists unable to get to their destination; supplies undelivered; appointments missed.

“We also feel for your frontline staff who will inevitably get the blunt end of frustrated passengers’ ire.”

But Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has welcomed the news that MV Isle of Mull will be redeployed to cover the Little Minch services to Lochmaddy and Tarbert following the removal of service of MV Hebrides for repair in Greenock to the vessel’s CO2 Fire Fighting system on August 2.  

The communities of Harris and Uist suffered a net loss of capacity of 2,000 car spaces in the three days when MV Hebrides was out of service, causing severe impacts for island businesses and islander travel.  It is a relief that a vessel will be in place to provide mitigation in time for the busy weekend. 

Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “It was a great relief to hear that MV Isle of Mull will be redeployed to cover for MV Hebrides while repairs to our vessel continue in Greenock.  We recognise that the cost of this redeployment is a loss of capacity on routes to Mull and Skye and we are grateful to those communities for the understanding they have shown.

"This underlines the urgent need for investment in the ferry fleet to ensure that reliability is improved and to avoid the impact always being passed on to others. We understand there are no easy decisions for CalMac until such time as there is adequate investment in the fleet at their disposal.”