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Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne have launched an international search to find vessels to plug the gap caused by serious delays to the new Arran ferry and her sister ship.
It comes as Arran residents are bracing themselves for days of disruption ahead as ferry services are hit by continuing turmoil and amid concerns that travel woes could hit next week’s important September weekend tourist trade.
A number of holiday businesses have already been hit by cancellations and disruption caused by the inability to get supplies at what is still a busy time on the island.
This weekend the Arran Sportive is trying to get 140 cyclists over to the island today (Saturday). Also trying to get over are MG cars for an island rally, competitors for the Lamlash Splash and a visiting football team – and that’s before any islanders travels arrangements are considered.
It has been another calamitous week for travellers, islanders and local businesses who have had to face serious ferry disruption owing to technical issues affecting both of the island ferries on the main Brodick to Ardrossan route.
But as the MV Caledonian Isles limps on with one ramp the MV Hebridean Isles is being drafted in from Islay to help cope with demand.
As CalMac admit they are facing ‘operational challenges’ it has become clear that the age of the vessels serving the route has contributed to the crisis. The MV Isle of Arran and the MV Caledonian Isles have a combined age of 59, which means there is no quick fix to the reliability issues.
Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson said: ‘CalMac may be working round the clock to restore Arran ferry services to normal as soon as possible but it is deeply disappointing that repeated breakdowns continue to occur.
‘The age of the fleet is clearly an issue which, had it not been for the delay in it entering service, theMV Glen Sannox would now be addressing.
‘Transport Scotland and Scottish ministers are well aware of these issues. Vessels in Norway and Denmark have been examined to buy or lease until new vessels enter the fleet. However, whilst none suitable have yet been found, there is a determination to ensure a robust, resilient and reliable service for Arran, its people and its visitors and that work is ongoing.’
Mr Gibson added: ‘I completely understand the deep sense of frustration and anger shared by islanders and visitors alike the major loss of ferry services due to breakdown.
‘A “heavy load” – as CalMac put it – damaged the front and rear ramps of the Caledonian Isles last Friday, causing the cancellation of vehicle carrying services. It is shocking that this damage happened and I have asked how and why?
‘Meanwhile, The Isle of Arran suffered a recurrence of her oil distribution box technical fault, has been withdrawn from service and is at Garvel in Greenock being repaired.’
These are scheduled to continue until tomorrow (Sunday) with the MV Isle of Arran due to return Monday, the last week of the summer service.
MV Caledonian Isles will continue to operate single-ended up to Tuesday September 18, thereafter she will spend the following two days being repaired in the dry dock, when the MV Hebridean Isles will return.
Meanwhile, VisitArran have issued their members with a survey seeking to gain an insight into the cost of losses and extra costs incurred as a result of ferry disruptions in an effort to quantify the financial impact.
A CalMac spokesman said: ‘We have been assessing capacity demand on services this weekend and into next week and are planning the following redeployment of vessels to ensure that all needs are met. Communities can be assured we have taken into account a number of important island events taking place this weekend as part of this assessment.
‘Additional capacity will continue to be provided on the Lochranza-Claonaig route by MV Loch Linnhe operating alongside MV Catriona. Work on the MV Isle of Arran’s technical fault is ongoing and we will provide an update on her progress in due course.
‘We recognise that these arrangements will impact on a number of communities but customers can be assured we explored a wide range of options before arriving at this plan, which we consider to be the best we can do with the resources available to us.
‘We apologise for any inconvenience caused and, as ever, are grateful for customers’ patience and understanding at this time.’
- See letters page