Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan earlier this week raised the issue of the recent technical issues affecting the MV Isle of Lewis with Minister for the Islands Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

MV Isle of Lewis came off service after returning to Castlebay on 14 April with an issue with her bow thrusters.

As the vessel blocked the berth in Castlebay and was unable to put to sea, no relief vessel could come alongside. Bad weather also hampered repair efforts with disruptions occurring on the Sound of Barra service.

Alasdair Allan MSP said:“The technical fault affecting the MV Isle of Lewis left Barra without a mainland link for far too long.

“While the weather was certainly a mitigating factor in hampering repair efforts, this incident shows that we need to be moving towards a situation where communities are less reliant on either replacement parts or engineers having to be flown in for vessel repairs.

“The Scottish Government’s establishment of the resilience fund for Calmac vessels was a welcome step in helping to make sure that proactive action is taken to prevent breakdowns and minimise any disruption in the event of a mechanical problem. I hope we see fewer of these incidents in the future.”

The Minister told MSPs on Thursday April 25th: "Since the announcement of its introduction in August 2018, the resilience fund has been used in 23 individual resilience projects across the fleet of vessels that are deployed to provide the Clyde and Hebrides services.

"Based on information presented to us, that investment should result in a significant improvement to fleet resilience this year. The projects range from upgrades to the full propulsion and bow thruster controls on four vessels to a replacement water mist firefighting pump on another. Further upgrades are planned to reduce the risk of technical failures impacting on service reliability."

He went on: "I recognise the key role that ferry services play in supporting island and remote mainland communities such as those that Dr Allan represents. I appreciate the disruption that was experienced when the MV Isle of Lewis was recently removed from the Oban to Barra service for a three-day period due to a problem with its bow thruster exhaust system and the connection to the hull.

"I am pleased to say that the vessel is now back in service. Caledonian MacBrayne is working with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd—CMAL—to assess the scope of works that could be carried out at a future dry docking of the vessel, to ensure that those can be tackled proactively the next time that it is there.

"That may widen the scope for more preventative measures to be carried out in the future. We are looking at such measures to ensure that that situation is not repeated elsewhere in the fleet.

"However, Dr Allan is absolutely right about looking at initiatives such as the purchase of spare parts, which is being done. Given that some vessels were built many years ago and parts for them are no longer available on the market, the operator has been involved in commissioning production of replacements for what are thought to be obsolete parts, to ensure that they are in place in advance. It is working hard to ensure the availability of parts so that those that are most likely to fail can be replaced—and vessels returned to service—quickly."