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Sub-heading: Business badly hit by cancellations
By Hugh Boag
Marooned islanders and visitors faced days of frustration this week as a break down to the MV Caledonian Isles – compounded by Storm Ciara – left the island cut off for days.
In the longest disruption in living memory Arran was left without a ferry service for four days, at huge personal costs to islanders and an economic setback to businesses on the island already reeling from widespread January disruptions.
The island should have been busy with school half-term holidaymakers, instead the island was like a ghost town.
An urgent VisitArran survey has found a worrying 40 per cent drop in accommodation provision and a fall of 29 per cent in retail sales last month, compared to January 2019, as a result of 185 (check) cancelled sailings on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route.
In addition, there’s been an enormous amount of cancellations for eateries – 102 in one case – and nearly all related to the ferry as they have been cancelled mostly by phone.
Other businesses have commented on the impact of getting deliveries themselves, and of operating an island business when restricted by reduced number of sailings, with businesses unable to make meetings to determine future stock supplies, marketing or promotion.
‘All of which begs the question what further reputational damage has this caused,’ said VisitArran executive director Sheila Gilmore: ‘And where do we go from here?’
The Co-op stores on the island have been struggling to keep their shelves stacked with panic buying rife. But Brodick stores manager Liz McLean said she was appreciative of the widespread customer support and thanked island staff who had covered double shifts for their mainland colleagues who were unable to get over.
While it is accepted that much of the disruption was due to the nationwide Storm Ciara, there is growing anger that the MV Caledonian Isles developed an engine fault only days after returning from her annual refit meaning that many of the cancelled sailings were as a result of ‘technical issues’.
This means, however, that both visitors stranded on Arran, and Arran residents stuck on the mainland, should be due compensation of 80 Euros per person per night, up to a maximum of thee nights. However, those who pre-booked through online travel agents may not be able to claim their money back.
The long suffering travelling public were finally able to make the short 12 nautical mile crossing to and from the mainland on Wednesday after the main port engine was repaired. The were also extra sailings on the Lochranza to Claonaig route.
However, with the weather for the weekend and into next week also looking horrendous, we may not be out of the woods yet.
Long time residents of the island say that even in the more distant past the island would never have been cut off for four days as one ferry at least always went to Gourock. And there were suggestions this week that CMAL (Caledonian Maritme Assets Ltd) may finally be putting a plan together to repair the linkspan at Gourock to allow the port to be used again, but that is still may months away.
The newly proactive Arran Ferry Committee as least tried to keep the public up to date with what was going on with posts on their new Facebook page. On Monday it was identified the Caley Isles breakdown was due to a leaking exhaust valve as well as a score in the liner valve on the inlet side. The piston was removed and cleaned overnight the liner cleaned.
On Tuesday the vessel undertook sea trials from late morning with the all-clear given that all had been resolved at 3.30pm. The first ferry left at= 8.20am on Wednesday.
Shadow Conservative transport spokesman Jamie Greene MSP said: ‘Whilst islanders accept a level of disruption and delay because of challenging weather conditions, they do not accept being let down due to continuous technical errors with their lifeline vessels.
‘This major route is once again out of service due to substantial problems with an ageing fleet that is well beyond its operational expectancy.
‘None of this would be happening if the new Arran ferry, the Glen Sannox, has been delivered on time to provide a more reliable and resilient service as it was intended to do.
‘It’s a complete disgrace that once again it is our island communities who have been let down by the SNP’s sheer incompetence and inability to run basic lifeline services; the anger being felt on Scotland’s islands is palpable and increasing by the day.’
Sidebar: ScotRail leave passengers stranded for days
Rail passengers were left furious after they missed what was to be the last ferry for four days – the 9.45am from Ardrossan on Saturday – after ScotRail failed to put on a direct replacement bus service to meet the vital sailing.
Before the storm it had been announced that there would be a replacement bus service on the route at the weekend due to engineering works. However passengers turning up for the first train from Glasgow Central – the 8.33am – were advised they had to take a train to Paisley, then a bus to Kilwinning, and an onward train to Ardrossan from there for a ferry leaving at 9.45am.
To make matters worse some passengers at Kilwinning were directed on to a Largs train which only went to Ardrossan South Beach, a 20/25minute walk from Ardrossan habour, meaning they missed the ferry.
One passenger, who was forced to take a taxi from Kilwinning to catch the ferry the skin of their teeth said: ‘It was obvious to everyone that the 9.45am was going to be the only ferry of the day, if it went at all. We got ourselves from Edinburgh in plenty of time for what we thought was a replacement bus, it is ridiculous that a direct service was not provided to Ardrossan, especially in the circumstances.’
ScotRail say that prior to the storm arriving, they proactively encouraged customers to check their journey before they travelled, we advised that there would be disruption to services on the Glasgow – Ardrossan/Largs lines.
A ScotRail spokesperson said: ‘As with all weather-related disruption it’s frustrating for customers whose services are cancelled or delayed, but safety has to be our priority. We have done all we can to keep our customers moving during some very challenging conditions.
‘Anyone who has been delayed by 30 minutes or more can claim money back through our Delay Repay Guarantee on our website or mobile app.’
The MV Caledonian Isles batters its way through the waves after successfully completing her sea trials on Tuesday. 01_B07isles01
The MV Caledonian Isles finally leaves Brodick pier for sea trials. 01_B07isles02