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There will be far more space for passengers on CalMac ferries from Monday August – but no more space on the car decks.

That was the warning today (Tuesday August 3) as CalMac has confirmed changes to capacities on its ferries following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that Scotland was moving beyond Level 0. 

Earlier this afternoon, during a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that legal requirements around physical distancing will be dropped from Monday.

Until now, physical distancing regulations have seen passenger capacity across the CalMac network drop to 35% of normal levels, leading latterly to a huge pressure on ferry tickets.

After the statement to Parliament, Na-h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan highlighted the serious challenges which the cut in capacity has brought to island life.

The First Minister acknowledged the situation had been “horrendously difficult” for islanders and confirmed ferry operators will be able to make more passenger capacity available from Monday.

This means that the number of passengers that can be carried on board ferries will return to normal levels. Ferries have been operating at around 30% of normal capacity. 

While this will improve capacity for foot passengers, vehicle ticket availability is likely to remain limited on some services, as capacity on car decks is already being reached during periods of high demand.   

There will also be changes to the exemption that has been in place during Covid that allowed passengers to remain in their vehicles on certain sailings. Due to Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) rules, passengers and freight drivers will no longer be permitted to stay with their vehicle on enclosed vehicle decks of Ro-Ro vessels.  Passengers travelling on Berneray-Leverburgh sailings will therefore no longer be able to stay in their vehicles during the crossing and must exit their vehicles. 

Reservations for additional capacity available from Wednesday 4 AugustTelephone reservations will open at 8am. Timetables will remain as published.   

To reduce the risk of new Covid-19 strains spreading, some mitigations will remain in place. 

  • Face coverings will continue to be mandatory inside ferries and ports unless exempt
  • Increased vessel turnaround times will continue to allow for enhanced cleaning. 
  • Perspex screens will be retained in ports and on vessels for the protection of staff and passengers. 

CalMac Operations Director Robert Morrison said: “It is good news that we are finally able to open up our ferries to their full capacities following the relaxation of Covid regulations. 

“It is vital to note, however, that we still recommend booking ahead as many of the car deck spaces are already reaching capacity. The majority of the capacity being freed up is for passenger space on deck."

 Alasdair Allan MSP commented: “This news will come as a huge relief to islanders.  The social distancing requirements for ferries have had severe consequences which I have continued to raise with both the Scottish Government and CalMac.

"Restricting passenger capacity to around a third of its normal levels at the height of summer has represented an unprecedented constraint on island life. People have found it difficult or impossible to travel to see family, care for sick relatives or just get to work.

“Today’s announcement means that from Monday CalMac vessels should be returning to full, or near full, passenger capacities. While I hope this means that we will soon return to something more like normality, this summer can never be repeated. As well as ensuring we have adequate capacity on island routes all year round, in the future we need the ability to prioritise those travelling for essential reasons.”