Ferry fiasco should never happen again

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By Hugh Boag

Islanders have demanded that the ferry fiasco which they faced this week should never be allowed to happen again.

They are incensed that a situation developed over the weekend which saw both linkspans at Ardrossan unavailable and Gourock also ruled out leaving the Arran ferry with nowhere to go.

Only the 11th hour intervention by the Port of Troon allowed the ferry to get to the mainland at all. Now residents and visitors want to know how the shocking state of affairs arose in the first place.

And they believe a simple sorry from CalMac – but it wasn’t their fault – really just glosses over the whole infrastructure issues on which Arran’s lifeline ferry service relies.

Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson told the Banner: ‘The key issue for me is that we have a £4 million Ferries Resilience Fund that should have ensured that not more than one linkspan is inoperable at any time and when one is out of action, it is repaired as soon as possible, thus ensuring no impact on the service.

‘I will press to ensure this appalling state of affairs is not repeated.’

With the service back up and running after days of disruption businesses are now counting the cost of loss trade. Hotels across the island had bookings cancelled and personal arrangements and appointments have been left in tatters. Social media users have had a field day with everyone keen to give their very differing views on the situation.

People want to know if Troon will now become the main port of refuge but this was ruled out this week by CalMac who insited it would remain as Gourock once the repairs were carried out there. However now the precedence has been set a CalMac source said it could be ‘assumed’ Troon would be considered again if the circumstances warranted it.

Writing in the Banner this week the chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group Gavin Fulton states: ‘The people of Arran find themselves once again feeling cut off and let down by those in authority. Do we ever get an apology from those that represent us, or the organisations such as Transport
Scotland who purport to coordinate and deliver our service?

‘We at the Arran Ferry Action Group are wholeheartedly committed to letting those in authority, up to and including government, know the depth of feeling on the island that our service is at an unacceptable level and that the demonstrable absence of proper strategic planning is damaging our
island economy. It is simply just not good enough!’

The sorry sage began when sailings to and from Ardrossan were cancelled since Sunday, and only fully resumed on Wednesday, after the only working linkspan at the Arran berth failed in what is understood to have problem with the hydraulics. The Irish Berth is out of action at the moment due to ‘planned annual maintenance work’, owners Peel Ports say.

Much of the credit for the ferry sailing to Troon has gone to Stuart Cresswell the Associated British Ports manager for Ayr and Troon who mobilised staff after CalMac accepted his offer to use the East Pier linkspan on Sunday. Foot passengers expecting to use Ardrossan were bussed to or from Troon as a result.

However, CalMac was quick to point out that the issues were outwith its control, as Ardrossan is run by Peel Ports and Gourock by state-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL). But the problem at Gourock is now new as the linkspan has been out of order since mid-September and repair work will not start until later this month.

Speaking at the Scottish parliament on Tuesday during the height of the crisis Mr Gibson asked Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse how the ‘shocking state of affairs’ had arisen which was causing ‘havoc with the Arran ferry service’

Mr Wheelhouse replied: ‘I recognise the huge frustration that the situation that has arisen will be causing, not just for Mr Gibson but his constituents. I note that Peel Ports has apologised to customers for the failure of the linkspan in Ardrossan, and I welcome its engagement in an effort to rectify the situation.

‘The recent linkspan issues at Gourock are being managed effectively by both Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd and CalMac. Engineers will assess the scale of work tomorrow, and we hope that repairs will start in the week commencing October 21.’

Jamie Greene, the Conservative MSP for West of the Scotland and his party’s transport spokesman, said: ‘Thousands of my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran, who rely on the Brodick-Ardrossan route as a lifeline service are being consistently let down by these infrastructure failings.

‘It’s bad enough that the new CalMac ferry will be at least three years late, ferry users now can’t even cross to Ardrossan or Gourock due to these port issues. It’s just one thing after another when it comes to looking after our rural and island communities.

‘The SNP Government needs to seriously reflect on their pathetic handling of our ferries and the effect their incompetence has on those who rely on a decent, reliable ferry network.’

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac Ferries said: ‘We appreciate that this disruption was an intensely frustrating experience for passengers just as it was for us. Our staff worked around the clock to find solutions to an issue that was not of our making, and pressed both port owners – Peel Ports at Ardrossan and CMAL at Gourock – to come up with solutions as quickly as possible.’

A spokeswoman for Peel Ports Group told the Banner: ‘Once again we apologise for any inconvenience caused while the repairs took place.’

  • See more ferry news on pg 6.
Some of the Port of Troon workers who volunteered to help.

The MV Caledonian Isles berthed at Troon’s East Pier. 01_B41troon01

The Port of Troon employees who responded to the call. 01_ B41troon02