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A new rupture to the ferry system serving the Western Isles has been exposed this afternoon (Wednesday 1 February) – this time as the Sound of Harris service is completely lost over two days.

It means only foot passengers will be carried across the Sound on Friday and Saturday – departing from Berneray’s tiny harbour aboard a 12-seater tour boat.

An augmented timetable of sailings carrying traffic across the Sound of Harris to Lochmaddy was an essential part of the patchwork solution to Uig port’s closure, helping justify the decision not to put on a service from Tarbert at all during the Highland Council port works in Skye.

Now CalMac operations manager Fiona Galbraith has told customers that MV Loch Portain, the vessel which operates the Sound of Harris crossing, has to depart early on Friday to reposition ahead of her annual overhaul.

And MV Loch Bhrusda, her predecessor and usual deputy on the Leverburgh-Berneray crossing, is still tied up at James Watt Dock in Greenock, completing her own annual overhaul.

Ms Galbraith told Harris community newsletter De Tha Dol: “I am sorry to inform you that, due to the requirement for the vessel to reposition for annual overhaul, MV Loch Portain is required to depart first thing on Friday morning.

“Due to delays within the annual overhaul programme, combined with current forecast weather on passage, MV Loch Bhrusda will not be in position to take up service on this route before MV Loch Portain departs.

“Unfortunately this means that all vehicle sailings on this route will be cancelled for Friday and Saturday.”

The Loch Bhrusda will need to leave Greenock today to cover the first part of a journey back to the islands, which usually takes three days.

By the same token, Loch Portain needs three days to reach her scheduled overhaul slot, or risk losing the certification which allows her to sail. Both journeys require good sea conditions to be safely made.

On the Sound of Harris, a charter service has been put in place to operate a foot-passenger only timetable, leaving from the fish pier in Berneray harbour from 9am on Friday (3 February).

The temporary service is to be operated by Uist Sea Tours aboard their 12-seater vessel Karleen Belle, usually used for wildlife and sightseeing tours through the summer.

Bookings for that temporary route can only be made via CalMac port offices in Tarbert or Lochmaddy. Ms Galbraith promised an update regarding services on Sunday 5 February, to be given on Saturday afternoon.

She said: “I am so sorry for the issues this will cause to our inter-island network and, given the constraints already on our services in the Western Isles I fully appreciate the impact this will have.”

The pictures show Berneray harbour, from where the passenger service will depart, (Eilidh Carr) and the passenger vessel Karleen Belle (Uist Sea Tours).

Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: “This latest setback will have a real impact on people and businesses in our local communities.

“Islanders are well-used to being let down by the increasingly shambolic ferry services on offer.

“This is just another blow, and one that could have been avoided if we had a Scottish Government that was serious about serving islanders and rural communities.

“SNP ministers need to get to grips with the problems causing this delay and ensure it is not repeated.”

(The MSP comment was added after first publication of the article.)