As its summer timetables came into force, CalMac Ferries warned of breakdowns and delays ahead as its ageing ferry fleet faces ever-growing problems finding parts to make essential repairs.

The average age of the ferries serving its routes is just under 22 years old and CalMac’s fleet will again be stretched to its full capacity over the summer months, the firm says.

Any issues with a vessel on one part of the network will have knock-on effects for other routes, as boats need to be diverted or deployed elsewhere to keep the network running.

Islay, Harris and Uist have already been affected by such changes, with the Hebridean Isles, one of two ferries that nowadays normally serve Islay, withdrawn to work on the Tarbert and Lochmaddy routes. The Hebridean Isles is almost 33 years old and served Tarbert until 2001.

CalMac’s summer timetables took effect on Friday, March 30 and the peak tourist period is always a test for the 32 ferries that serve 51 ports on 49 routes.

CalMac Ferries says the working life expectancy of similar ferries is around 25 years, so with nearly half of the ferries on its routes already beyond that milestone – and having been used intensively during those years of service – the risk of mechanical failures and breakdown is significant.

It also takes longer to get older boats back into service when things do go wrong, often due to the difficulty in sourcing parts across Europe.

During 2017, CalMac carried more than five million passengers, nearly 1.5 million cars, some 80,000 coaches, and just under one million metres of commercial traffic. For 2018, CalMac is looking forward to the company’s busiest ever summer season.

CalMac Ferries’ new Interim Managing Director, Robbie Drummond said: “We ask a lot of our fleet, and indeed our people, at the busiest time of year on our network. I know everyone here is ready and eagerly anticipating another successful summer season, but I am also very conscious of the workload our boats will be undertaking and the strain that puts them under, particularly the older vessels in the fleet, eight of which are more than 30 years old now.

“We’re already dealing with the consequences of that reality and I’d like to apologise to everyone impacted by the temporary removal of the MV Hebridean Isles from the Islay services to cover for the MV Clansman, which is currently in dry dock awaiting the return of the propulsion unit sent to Denmark for repairs. We know that locals and visitors alike have come to expect the more regular service and greater capacity provided by two boats, so we understand people’s frustration when one of those vessels needs to be deployed elsewhere.”

The ferries deployed on CalMac routes are leased to the company by their owners, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), a separate and distinct company which is wholly-owned by the Scottish Government. CMAL also owns, and is responsible for maintaining, some of the many harbours CalMac uses for its services up and down the west coast.

Mr Drummond said:”CMAL is investing in new ferries, with the Glen Sannox, launched in November, one of two new ferries that will join our fleet in the future. Until then, we will of course proactively manage as best we can with the current fleet, but I fear that it will, at times, cause issues on some of our routes.”

CalMac’s summer timetables are available here: https://www.calmac.co.uk/calmac-summer-timetables