A new crisis has today (Wednesday 14 April) engulfed the ferry services to the Western Isles.
This is due to a major failure of the port engine on MV Loch Seaforth.
CalMac Ferries says the vessel requires substantial repairs and she has been removed from service and will be taken to dock as soon as possible.
It is expected that the vessel will be out of service until at least the end of April to allow the engine issue to be thoroughly investigated and repaired.
As a result, MV Isle of Lewis has been removed from the Castlebay-Oban route.
Only a few weeks ago, it was the MV Isle of Lewis which had broken down and was first in Stornoway then in Birkenhead for repairs.
The MV Isle of Lewis will pick up the day service for passengers and freight on the Ullapool to Stornoway route. This is the proposed timetable - https://www.calmac.co.uk/ullapool-stornoway-amended-timetable-april-2021#cookie-consents-updated
[UPDATE: As of 0745 today, Thursday 15th April, the Isle of Lewis is en route to Ullapool with its first service]
The overnight freight service has been suspended until further notice.
UPDATE Today Thursday 15th April
An additional sailing of MV Hebrides will operate as follows:
Depart Tarbert - 17:00
Arrive Uig -18:40
Depart Uig - 19:00
Arrive Tarbert - 20:40
Robert Morrison, Operations Director for CalMac, said: "We appreciate the importance of the passenger and freight service on this route and apologise for the inconvenience this amended timetable may cause.
"We’ll keep customers updated throughout. If you’ve not already done so, download our app or follow our Twitter @CalMac_Updates so we can provide you with timely updates, with the latest information we have available. Alternatively, you can also sign up to our service status text updates.
The Oban – Castlebay service will be served by a combined Lochboisdale and Castlebay service by MV Lord of the Isles.
CalMac Ferries say: "We have been working closely with the vessel owners CMAL as well as Transport Scotland to find ways of minimising disruption overall, however, for longer periods it is sometimes necessary to move vessels around the network to provide a replacement. We know and understand the reduction of any service can be very challenging for our customers and the communities we serve, and we apologise for the inconvenience this may cause.
The Mallaig – Lochboisdale service will operate an amended timetable on Thursday 15 April, as outlined below.
Depart Lochboisdale: 0700
Arrive Mallaig: 1030
Depart Mallaig: 1420
Arrive Lochboisdale: 1750
Depart Lochboisdale: 1800
Arrive Castlebay: 1940
In addition the 14:00 Uig-Tarbert sailing by MV Hebrides today was delayed by around 40 minutes. This was to allow booked traffic to travel from Ullapool to the port in Skye.
The Tarbert-Uig sailing scheduled for 16:00 was delayed to 16:40 approximately and the Uig-Lochmaddy 18:15 sailing will be delayed to around 19.00.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has today repeated the call for the trial of the MV Pentalina given that the MV Loch Seaforth is suspended until at least the end of April.
Angus MacNeil said: “Given the breakdown of the MV Loch Seaforth and the challenges we will again face on the west coast of Scotland on the CalMac ferry routes it is imperative that the MV Pentalina is tested and trialled to see if it is a viable ferry for use on the routes.
“We would be in a hugely dire situation now if another ferry broke down. The current situation is bad enough but to know there is a ferry sitting idly by is frustrating. Between the Government, Transport Scotland and CMAL the decision has not been made to trial the MV Pentalina to see what it can do, it is very frustrating indeed.
“Now is the time for action. I would call on the Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, to urgently intervene to make sure that the Pentalina is brought into the equation."
SNP Candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, is urging CalMac to provide all island communities with reassurances about the impact on lifeline services.
Alasdair Allan commented: “The news that the largest vessel in CalMac’s fleet, serving one if its busiest routes, is out of action is of serious concern. It has implications beyond the Stornoway-Ullapool route which she serves.
“I have today spoken with CalMac to raise my concerns and to encourage them to look at all options, including the chartering of vessels from outside the CalMac fleet. With the islands about to open up to tourists again, CalMac needs to move swiftly to reassure islanders and businesses over the coming weeks.
“The incident again points to the pressing need for new vessels, as the fleet is now struggling to cope whenever a major vessel is out of action for any reason. This is a point I have again made to the ferries minister today.”
Labour candidate Shaun Fraser said today that the Western Isles poll on May 6th must be used as a “ferry election” to give the only message SNP politicians would understand.
Mr Fraser said: “The latest Loch Seaforth debacle and the knock-on effects for other islands should be the last straw. It is time to hold the politicians responsible directly to account and this can be done at the ballot box”.
He added: “Even before this happened, I had called for a vessel to be chartered to ease the pressure on an overstretched network. Now this is absolutely imperative and CalMac’s plans for cover throughout the network simply do not add up.
“Everyone in the islands knows that there is an urgent need for decisive action but the SNP, taking island votes for granted, stays silent and pass the buck to CalMac who are not responsible for this chaos”.
Mr Fraser recalled that Labour was highly critical of SNP ministers’ decision to use private finance to build the Loch Seaforth with Lloyd’s Bank as owners and Calmac as sub-tenants of CMAL.
“While the ferry has since been bought back, the use of PFI by the SNP dictated at that time a one ferry solution against the wishes of just about everyone in the islands. Now the chickens are well and truly home to roost and those responsible cannot hide behind silence”.
(This article has been updated with a range of comments since first being posted)
Name of Candidate
Description of Candidate
ALLAN, Alasdair James
Scottish National Party (SNP)
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
FRASER, Shaun Alexander
Scottish Labour Party
MACMILLAN, Callum Ian
Time for Change
Scottish Liberal Democrats