An additional vessel may join the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry route in the summer, it was announced today (Friday February 2) by Comhairle na Eilean Siar.
CnES Leader, Councillor Roddie Mackay, has raised the matter of ferry capacity with MSP Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work in what has been described as a very positive meeting.
This may see the return to the service of the Clipper Ranger, at present sailing from Liverpool.
Clipper Ranger is a freight ferry built in 1998, which was in service with Seatruck Ferries on the Heysham - Belfast route until the latter half of 2012. In September 2013, she was chartered to Caledonian MacBrayne for the freight service between Ullapool and Stornoway, along with the Isle of Lewis passenger ferry. This continued until the Loch Seaforth took over the route. The official policy then was that a single. larger ferry sailing several times a day could manage all the traffic.
Speaking following the meeting, Mr Mackay said: "Ferries are not just about transport but also very much about economic impacts and I wanted to ensure that Mr Brown was aware of the hugely negative economic impact on our islands as a direct result of inadequate ferry capacity.
"I asked Mr Brown if he would look into the availability and potential of engaging the Clipper Ranger as a dedicated freight vessel in time for this summer. This was a very productive meeting and whilst the Minister had reservations regarding additional spend, he did acknowledge that it was a real issue and assured me he would look into the matter.
"Whilst the Transport Minister had suggested that he was looking for an additional vessel, the Comhairle was becoming increasingly concerned about the potential capacity challenges facing us again this year.
“We have carried out some research ourselves and it would appear that the Clipper Ranger may offer a meaningful solution. Therefore, we have asked Scottish Government to pursue this as a matter of urgency.
"A dedicated freight vessel will go a very long way to alleviating this capacity issue and allowing the islands to enjoy significantly increased economic growth.
"We are confident that Scottish Government and Ministers have a real understanding of the issue and hope that they will support an arrangement to have the Clipper Ranger back on the Stornoway-Ullapool route this summer.
"I would like to thank the Minister for his positive engagement on this crucial islands' issue."