The Clansman ferry which had to return to drydock with a major technical issue immediately after her annual service, developed a new fault on her way back to service yesterday (Wednesday 15 March).
Meanwhile it was announced in the Scottish Parliament that the new ferries under construction on the Clyde will be delayed another six months, ending any hope that one of them could play a role in this summer's services.
And the fallout from this, from ferry upgrade delays and from pressure on ports means that disruption on the ferries is to roll over into summer timetables, while passenger numbers and tourist arrivals grow.
CalMac’s 25-year-old MV Clansman, which usually serves the Coll and Tiree to Oban route, has been in dock on the River Clyde having repairs made to her starboard main engine, after breaking down en route to from her annual upgrade late in February.
On Tuesday she made her latest move out of dock, conducting sea trials before heading for Oban, bound to take up service on the Ullapool – Lochmaddy route.
But CalMac has reported this morning that an issue was identified during yesterday’s sea trials, and that’s currently under investigation to establish the root cause and the scope of any additional work required.
The Ullapool-Lochmaddy service, essential to keep supplies moving into the Outer Hebrides, is being maintained by MV Hebrides, herself due to head for a delayed annual upgrade on 20 March.
The loan vessel MV Arrow was due to be returned to the Isle of Man yesterday, but is apparently still available to CalMac, who said she is to operate tomorrow morning’s freight service from Ullapool to Stornoway.
Meanwhile CalMac has notified passengers that MV Isle of Mull is to continue operating services between Lochboisdale and Oban until 8 April ‘due to delays in the annual overhaul programme and subsequent impacts on vessel deployments within the network.’
The extended period of disrupted working by all the major vessels is having impacts on the port of Oban, too, and CalMac said they were addressing congestion in that port by amending timetables between Castlebay and Oban up until 8 April.
That means two revised timetables – one for the winter period until 30 March and one as the transition to summer timetables comes into effect up to 8 April.
They tweeted this morning (Thursday): “In order to facilitate berthing for all vessels in Oban, which is as a result of delays in the annual overhaul programme, its subsequent effect on vessel deployment, and the delay to Uig reopening, MV Isle of Lewis will operate an amended timetable.”
The revised Castlebay Oban winter timetable is available here: https://www.calmac.co.uk/oban-castlebay-barra-ferry-winter-timetable-21-22 and the summer timetable here: https://www.calmac.co.uk/summer-timetables/Oban-Castlebay
The pictures show the Clansman heading up the Clyde for repairs in February (Cammy Shaw) and her first movement in the hope of a return to service on Tuesday this week (marinetraffic.com).
Following the news that the Glen Sannox and Hull 802 will be delayed by at least another six months, bringing yet more disruption for island communities, Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie has criticised Deputy First Minister as being, “a master at defending the indefensible."
This afternoon, John Swinney told Parliament that the Glen Sannox will be delayed from May to autumn of this year, while Hull 802 will be delayed from March 2024 to autumn 2024.
The Deputy First Minister also confirmed that an additional £6 million will be allocated to completing the ferries. Both ferries are already five years behind schedule and costing more than three times their original estimates.
Willie Rennie said: “John Swinney is a master at defending the indefensible, but even today he cannot defend this set of circumstances.
“He’s got no idea about the final costs, no idea about the final delivery dates and apparently no idea that these bonuses were being paid, even though his government owns the yard.
“So, what guarantee can he give that this will be the last statement of its kind about these ferries?”
Speaking after the statement, he added: "I cringed when I heard SNP backbenchers applauding this debacle. If this is success worthy of praise, I’d hate to see failure.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has used a response to a Ministerial Statement from the Deputy First Minister to call for an apology for years of “complete and reckless neglect of Scotland’s ferry service”.
“Today’s announcement was nothing short of a disgrace and a full and frank apology was required.
“These ferries were due in 2018. They will be 6 years late. It is an absolutely shocking state of affairs although sadly now to be expected from this failing SNP-Green Government.
“Communities across the Western Isles are sick to the back teeth of these endless excuses.
“They rightly want ferries that work and run on time. Nothing more and nothing less.”