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Two island ferry terminals must close for urgent repairs, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) has today (Wednesday 31 August) announced.

Following a routine annual inspection at Lochboisdale, CMAL have announced that the linkspan will be closed from Saturday 24 September for two weeks.

And that closure will be followed soon afterwards by closure for replacement of lifting ropes on the linkspan at Castlebay ferry terminal. Both are owned by CMAL.

The linkspan at Lochboisdale will close on Saturday 24 September after the 5:45am ferry has departed, remaining closed for two weeks during essential work to replace wire lifting ropes.

The necessity for the work was revealed during a routine annual inspection by specialist engineers, who said a number of lifting ropes on the linkspan need to be replaced at the earliest opportunity. Last year’s inspections showed no issues.

CMAL said that CalMac are urgently reviewing alternative service options for sailings to Lochmaddy during the closure period, from either Mallaig or Uig, subject to successful berthing trials being completed, and will confirm these arrangements early next week. 

Preliminary works will be undertaken on-site from 17 September, although this will be planned to minimise any effect on port operations and ferry services. 

Loading restrictions have been in place since 16 August when the inspection findings were first reported. Loading capacity was reduced to 44 tonnes, the weight of a standard road-going truck, meaning that abnormal and heavy loads have been unable to use the linkspans. 

Monitoring and testing is to be conducted this week by specialist inspectors ahead of the replacement work to ensure safe ongoing operation.

It is not anticipated that these checks will affect the services and further weekly tests and daily visual inspections will be conducted but will not affect the ferry service.

Morven Bridges, head of engineering at CMAL, said: “This is a safety concern and requires a swift response to replace the lifting ropes.  Unfortunately, it means we must close the linkspan, impacting ferry services. 

“In the run-up to the closure, to ensure the continued safe operation of the linkspan with the new loading restrictions, we will be conducting regular monitoring, tests and inspections, with support from CalMac’s port team.

“We understand islanders will be concerned about the impact on lifeline ferry services. 

"We are working closely with CalMac and our contractor to minimise disruption as far as possible and certainly to ensure there is no delay in the replacement work programme and the linkspan returns to service no later than Saturday 8 October.”

Castlebay’s linkspan lifting ropes also need to be replaced, although mitigation measures in place will allow safe ongoing operation for a longer period. 

Dates for the replacement work in Barra will be identified by CMAL but will not coincide with the closure of Lochboisdale.

Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has reacted immediately to news of the closures. He said: “This is incredibly frustrating for the community in South Uist.

“Both ends of the summer timetable are now set to see two-week closure periods. This is in addition to the significant disruption they have had to endure throughout the year. 

“CalMac need to urgently consult with local businesses and identify mitigation measures to put in place during the closure periods.

“The closure length and dates for Castlebay also need to be clarified as soon as possible. We need more information so that communities and businesses can know what they are dealing with.

“The community in South Uist campaigned long and hard for their own dedicated route to the mainland. Both communities have seen huge benefits since 2016 from having dedicated vessels. However, the unreliability of the service puts these benefits at risk. 

“These closures underline the critical need for accelerated investment in both upgraded infrastructure and new vessels for South Uist and Barra, including the need to move ahead soon with decisions on a new ferry terminal site in Lochboisdale.”