Ferry providers CalMac say they are being ‘tested to the limit’ and have ‘limited deployment options’ as their fleet continues to show the strain of working beyond its lifespan.
In a statement released yesterday (Wednesday 1 March) the ferry provider enumerated technical breakdowns, extended dry dock periods and other factors which, they say, will see disruption to services continuing throughout this month.
The challenges include port closures at Uig in Skye (Highland Council), in Lochmaddy (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) and Castlebay (CMAL) while upgrades and essential repairs are completed on the piers where CalMac ferries dock.
But they also include a succession of vessel breakdowns and technical faults which have either prevented vessels sailing at all, or limited the conditions within which they can operate.
Among the vessels currently receiving attention are:
- MV Caledonian Isles – delayed in annual overhaul while important repairs are completed to damaged bearings in the main engine.
- MV Hebridean Isles – out of service and due for dry dock from Monday (6 March) with an intermittent fault in the controllable pitch propellor system, which represents a vessel safety concern.
- MV Clansman – out of service after suffering a starboard main engine failure on the way back from annual upgrade. Replacement of the failed component will be followed by inspection and flushing the engine, to clear any debris that might cause further failure.
MV Hebrides overhaul has been delayed until 20 March to provide cover on the Lochmaddy-Ullapool service, and other ferries expected to be held back from upgrade include MV Lord of the Isles, MV Loch Frisa and MV Finlaggan.
MV Arrow is still available to provide resilience for the Ullapool-Stornoway route during the Uig harbour closure, but is due to be returned to the Isle of Man on 15 March.
Area manager operations manager Fiona Galbraith said yesterday: “With no spare vessels, our resilience is being tested to the limit and we are working hard to maintain lifeline services.
“We will continue to do our best to balance demand to capacity and provide case by case help with alternatives solutions - however, with limited deployment options, capacity will be reduced on some routes and there will need to be prioritisation of essential bookings.
“I am aware of the significant impact this period of disruption is already having on our customers and communities across our network.
“I’d like to thank you for your ongoing support and patience. This is a very frustrating period and please be assured that we are working hard to devise deployment plans that provide the best solutions possible for our communities with the limited options we have.”
CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond said today: "Several of our services are experiencing added pressure and we are so sorry for any disruption this is causing to our local communities and customers.
"While we are expecting MV Clansman and MV Hebridean Isles to return to service in the middle of March, and MV Caledonian Isles to return to service by the beginning of April, the knock-on effect from these repairs has delayed other vessels in the fleet going into overhaul.
"We are doing all that we can to resume normal service operation and will stay in regular contact with our communities through the usual channels to keep them informed of any developments."