First Arran event cancelled

MV Caledonian Isles spent the day stormbound in the harbour with MV Hebridean Princess just visible beside her.

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Arran has this week had its first event cancelled due to a combination of ferry faults and concern over the coronavirus.

The first ever VegFest was due to have been held at Arran High School this weekend, but organisers have taken the decision to postpone the event. Next week’s planned Arran Spring Fest, organised by Arran Eco Savvy, is however, still going ahead.

And mainland guests due to the attend the centenary dinner of the Shiskine SWI on Tuesday night were unable to get across due to weather cancelled sailings. They included the granddaughter of the late Lady Jean, Lady Hermione Thornhill.

However, in a rare glimmer of good news, CalMac say the fault on the MV Caledonian Isles should be fixed in a less than a week rather than the six weeks originally predicted. A problem with hydraulics of the mezzanine decks, which put them out of action earlier this week, has been resolved.

The issue is related to a cracked casing on an aft winch gearbox which, as a result, may prevent the vessel from tying up in bad weather in Ardrossan. It also restricts the operational limits for the weather conditions it can operate in to around 30 knots.

Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson said: ‘Given the likelihood that this may cause further disruption in the coming days, on top of the recent difficulties, it is not surprising that there is a lot frustration on the island. It must be a real priority to get this sorted.’

The situation since the start of the year with technical issues and severe winter storms is unprecedented and has already had a huge impact on tourism to the island and the ability of islanders to go about their daily lives without disruption.

Latest figures obtained by the Banner showed just how serious the situation is for the island which again saw continuing major disruption this week.

Until Tuesday of this week there had been 273 cancelled sailings out of a scheduled 781 sailings since the start of 2020 – a staggering 35 per cent of all trips. The February figure was the worst at 39.5 per cent.

The number of first sailings from Ardrossan cancelled has been 26 since the start of the year. This is recorded as this influences health and social care staff and other staff attendance, mail, supplies and services.

The situation was discussed at what has been described as an ‘intemperate’ Arran Ferry Committee meeting on Monday night attended by Mr Gibson and the new CalMac operations manager, Tommy Gove.

Mr Gibson said: ‘What is needed is additional ferry cover, particularly in the run up to and over the start of the main holiday season at Easter. Ferry chiefs have previously visited Oslo and Copenhagen in the search for short-term replacement vessels and that is something I will be pressing to Scottish Government to consider again.

‘There is no doubt that more vessels are needed in the fleet to cover unforeseen circumstances as we now find on the MV Caledonian Isles and, going forward, I support a 10- to 15-year construction plan.’

Meanwhile, the effect on island tourism of the cancellations cannot be overestimated and Mr Gibson said that in order to alleviate the situation reliability of the ferry service in the future had to be the ‘number one priority’.

Co-founder and managing director at Auchrannie Linda Johnston told the Banner: ‘We have undoubtedly had a period of very extreme weather, and as we live on an island, we must expect some disruption.

‘However, we all know there are infrastructure problems with the ferries and harbours and it is important that all stakeholders on and off the island work effectively together to the same priorities and goals to find effective solutions in the quickest possible timescale. As an island, we must all unite to make sure this happens.’

CalMac director of operations Robert Morrison said: ‘Due to a technical issue with part of the mooring equipment on MV Caledonian Isles, the vessel may be unable to safely berth during periods of adverse weather which could result in disruption or cancellation to service at short notice. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause passenger.

‘A supplier has now been sourced who has the parts in stock, thus reducing the time frame for repair from what was thought to be around six weeks to approximately seven days as the parts do not need to be fabricated. Estimated completion of repairs is Thursday March 19. However, further updates will be issued as soon as more information is available.’

Meanwhile, in another issue to hit tourism, Auchrannie resort has postponed a refurbishment of its main hotel in favour of a £1 million investment in additional staff accommodation as Brexit has led to a plunge in applicants from the European Union (EU).

About one-third of staff at the employee-owned resort are EU nationals from outside the UK. However, since the Brexit referendum, the number of applications from those outside the UK has dropped by roughly 75 per cent from around 200 per year to just 50.

Ms Johnston added: ‘The main worry for us is the whole workforce thing with the immigration policy.’

The three new staff accommodation units are due to be completed in June, and will take the number of rooms for employees up to 102. The resort currently has a total of approximately 180 staff.

  • See page 11: Arran VegFest postponed.