Protests have begun after the announcement this week that MV Hebridean Isles is moving to operate the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy triangle and MV Hebrides will sail south to service Tiree, Coll and Colonsay before heading off for her delayed overhaul
The change arises because MV Clansman is currently having extensive repairs done to her propulsion system in Scandinavia and the knock-on effect of the MV Clansman’s extended dry dock has required CalMac to reshuffle its fleet to continue to deliver lifeline services to communities it supports in the Western Isles.
"‘With only a limited number of major vessels in the fleet, when one is unexpectedly out of service we need to use the resources that we have to maintain reliable operations to every community that depends on us,’ said CalMac’s Head of Operations (North), Robert Morrison this week.
‘We understand that this will cause disruption to the communities on North Uist and Harris which we apologise for.
"It is, however, we believe the best solution within the resources we currently have to deliver reliable services. We will provide every assistance to disrupted customers travelling Uig-Tarbert and Uig-Lochmaddy, which may involve alternative sailings or re-routing to other served ports to make connections.’
The MV Hebridean Isles was involved in a docking incident at Tiree in February which is currently still under investigation.‘Until all the circumstances of this incident have been formally investigated we have no choice but to deploy MV Hebrides on to this route until the MV Clansman returns to service,’ added Robert.
Information on service disruption on Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy and any other affected routes, and advice for service users, will be available shortly.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says she is angry and disappointed that ferry services on the Uig triangle will be affected yet again and at one of the busiest times of year.
“I believe this could go on for a further two weeks – over the busy Easter season – meaning there will be reduced capacity on the smaller ferry operating the triangle, meaning disrupted and cancelled bookings,” said Mrs Grant today.
“What is needed is another ferry to be brought in but CalMac says there is nothing spare. I am contacting the Transport Minister as a matter of urgency to try to resolve this matter.
“It makes me angry that yet again services for the Western Isles are hit because there is no back-up ferry brought in to fill the gap. It is totally unacceptable for individuals and businesses.
“Today I had a constituent saying they would have to wait 18 days to get a ferry to North Uist. Just incredible!”
The Chairman of the Uist Economic Taskforce Working Group has expressed strong concern about the present ferry situation as it affects Uist and the unsatisfactory approach to service provision by Calmac.
After the recent meeting of the Islands Transport Forum, Councillor Iain A. MacNeil said: “It is hugely disappointing that the MV Hebrides is being replaced on the Lochmaddy triangular route over the Easter period. This change is totally inappropriate and will affect individuals, communities and businesses.
"The loss of carrying capacity on the route will have a significant knock-on effect to the local economy. Given the economic challenges presently faced by Uist it is unacceptable that these challenges are being exacerbated by CalMac and their poorly-judged approach to this lifeline route.
“From a wider perspective we are highly concerned about the prioritisation that CalMac is affording Uist. It appears that Calmac repeatedly de-prioritises Uist with their approach to vessel selection on Uist routes.
"Uist always seems to be at the bottom of the queue when it comes to Calmac. Making matters worse is that Lochboisdale has also suffered an unprecedented level of disruption over the last few months. We will be writing to both Calmac and the Transport Minister to make these points.
“Uist has a magnificent tourism product. We have a fantastic environment, an unrivalled cultural heritage, first class visitor attractions and a warm and welcoming approach. We are growing our tourism economy incrementally year-on-year. Calmac should be working with us to help grow that market and not be finding ways to inhibit growth, which they appear to be doing at present.”
(The comments from Rhoda Grant and Councillor Iain A. MacNeil have been added since the original article was posted)