Ferry services ‘can’t stay afloat forever’ – MSP

A pair of CalMac ferries pass in Obay Bay

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Ferry operators are facing ‘significant losses,’ but cannot stay afloat forever without help, the country’s transport secretary has warned.

Michael Matheson MSP has added his signature today to a letter from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments warning that some routes could sink unless there is intervention.

It has been sent to UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to sound the alarm bell over the future of services in places like the Western Isles.

Ferry companies have faced significant losses since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the crackdown on travel, restrictions on movements and some freight.

Politicians are warning that ferry companies will need to make ‘decisions’ on ‘loss-making routes’ in coming days as carrying on with reduced passengers and staffing numbers may not be sustainable longer term.

It comes as CalMac, which offers 33 vessels serving 28 routes, has revealed its passenger numbers have dropped by 95 per cent since new rules on essential ferry travel were put in place.

The company has carried just 2,593 passengers compared to 57,233 for the same period last year, although company MD Robbie Drummond welcomed the fact the public is paying attention to government advice not to travel.

The company, he said, remained committed to running ‘lifeline services’ to the islands.

Some of the asks of the UK government include an ‘immediate and temporary’ relaxation of the competition regulations and a confirmation that seafaring companies will qualify for the employee support scheme.

Mr Matheson said: ‘My officials and I have kept in touch with ports and ferry operators over the past few weeks and they have expressed substantial concerns with their operations over this difficult period.

‘I believe that without further intervention operators will need to take difficult commercial decisions which could be avoided, and that it will be extremely difficult to recover from that after we make it through this crisis.

‘Current reductions in freight traffic are also a serious issue in their own right.

‘There is a strong case for the UK Government to do more to support this vital sector during these unprecedented times and I look forward to their response on this important matter.’