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MV Loch Portain

CalMac has this afternoon (Thursday 22 February) admitted that the network is ‘stretched to the absolute limit’ as vessels are delayed in annual overhaul for a variety of reasons.

And chief executive Robbie Drummond says that there will be unavoidable knock-on effects across the network, as news breaks today that the 31-year-old MV Caledonian Isles is to be delayed by approximately 16 weeks in annual overhaul.

The vessel, which has always served the Isle of Arran, operating between Ardrossan and Brodick, now needs ‘significant steel renewal and repair.’

CalMac received confirmation yesterday afternoon that an estimated £5m worth of repairs will be needed, involving the removal of the auxiliary and main engines to allow suitable access to the double bottom water ballast tank tops.

Today’s statement said: “These repairs need to be done in a planned, coordinated manner, rather than all at the same time to maintain the vessel's structural integrity.”

Now CalMac has launched assessments of the impact of not having the MV Caledonian Isles in service for the start of the summer timetables and is to publish revised deployment plans by Monday 4 March.

Although Caledonian Isles is not one of the Western Isles vessels, her absence from the network will add more pressure to stretched deployment plans here.

The Castlebay Oban service is cancelled tomorrow (Friday) and will see alterations to service on Sunday as vessels reposition with the hoped-for return of MV Clansman, currently awaiting a tug to get her out of her delayed annual overhaul.

Lochmaddy and Tarbert are without services until MV Clansman is released on Saturday and the Sound of Harris currently has reduced capacity as the venerable, and small MV Loch Bhrusda runs in place of MV Loch Portain, also off for her overhaul.

CalMac’s statement said: “Every vessel in CalMac's fleet is subject to annual overhaul. Surveys of the vessels' structures are completed continuously in preparation for the annual overhaul period.

“Scopes of work for each vessel are planned around the outcome of these surveys. However, there are limitations to what these surveys can detect.”

Robbie Drummond, CalMac chief executive, said: "We know this news will cause concern and frustration for communities across the whole network, and we apologise for this.

"Our team will be working exceptionally hard over the coming days to assess every eventuality in terms of vessel deployment, with a view to minimising disruption for the communities and customers we serve.

“We will do the best we can in these circumstances, but it is unavoidable that there will be a knock-on effect on other routes on the network.

"MV Caledonian Isles has served North Ayrshire with distinction for over three decades, but like any ageing vessel the scope of work required in annual overhaul is likely to grow each year.

"Over a third of our vessels are now operating beyond their average life expectancy, and we invested record levels in annual maintenance in 2023.

"We are stretched to the absolute limit in terms of network deployment already, and the arrival of six major and 10 small vessels in the coming years will provide much-needed resilience and reliability to the service."