Ferry availability issue raises concerns about Arran’s economic recovery

Jamie Greene MSP, has called for the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry route to be restored to full capacity.

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‘The west coast needs additional ferries, whether they are built or chartered from elsewhere, as a matter of urgency.’

Businesses on Arran fear their recovery from the pandemic will be thwarted if visitors can’t get to the island as a result of limited ferry availabilty.

Most companies on the island enjoyed a welcome resurgence this week with day visitors and tourists taking advantage of the relaxation of Government restrictions which have been eased to Level 2 across most of Scotland.


But accommodation providers say many visitors have been unable to secure ferry bookings. Others have cancelled trips and holidays fearing they will be stranded on the island if the ferry is full. Others are simply not able to book their preferred dates.

Concerns grew this this week when ferry operator CalMac announced that the much anticipated return of Arran’s second ferry, MV Isle of Arran, will be delayed until ‘at least’ Monday May 31.

The issue started at the end of April when MV Isle of Arran had to be redeployed to Ullapool as a temporary replacement for MV Loch Seaforth which experienced catastrophic engine problems, resulting in it being removed from service. This left Arran without its second ferry which usually adds additional capacity on the busy Ardrossan to Brodick route at the start of the summer.

The loss of custom and visitors to the island was conservatively estimated by the Arran Recovery Group to cost Arran around £500,000 in lost revenue. This was estimated from the start of the month until Monday May 17, when MV Isle of Arran was first expected to return. Since then, the return date slipped to Monday May 24, and then to Monday May 31 – all within the space of one week – which will now almost certainly double the initial estimate and take it closer to, if not exceed, the £1m mark.


The return of MV Loch Seaforth to the Stornoway-Ullapool route has been delayed five times and the knock-on effect has meant that, in total, Arran will continue to be serviced by a single vessel service for the entire month.

Coupled with Covid-19 curbs on passenger numbers, enforced by the Government and outwith CalMac’s control, this will equate to a reduction of the total carrying capacity usually offered by the two vessels to even less than half than what is usually available at this time of the year.

CalMac Managing Director Robbie Drummond said: ‘This is frustrating news, as we were expecting to see the Loch Seaforth return to service sooner than this. We will continue to work closely with customers to keep them updated of the latest situation and to minimise further disruption.’

Businesses are also concerned about the future reliability of the rest of the fleet available to CalMac, as any further disruption across the CalMac network can, and has had, repercussions for Arran.

This was clearly demonstrated recently when shortly after being deployed to Ullapool, MV Isle of Arran developed issues of its own and had to be removed from the route. CalMac’s second-largest vessel, the MV Isle of Lewis, also suffered technical difficulties over the weekend, leaving island communities in doubt about the situation improving any time soon and about the future reliability of the ageing fleet.

The situation has prompted Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson, along with two other SNP island MSPs, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP, Alasdair Allan and Argyll and Bute MSP, Jenni Minto, to call for an urgent meeting with Scottish Ministers about the ferry situation.

Mr Gibson said: ‘Many of my Arran constituents and businesses are in despair at the current situation. Even once the current situation is resolved, the next crisis will surely be just around the corner.

‘Vessels are available in Europe to lease. Scottish Ministers, Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac need to check them out now, lease additional boats and ensure our island communities and businesses have the lifeline service they need, expect and deserve.’

Mr Allan, added: ‘This situation is becoming increasingly intolerable for island communities.

‘CalMac simply does not have enough vessels for there to be proper cover when ships inevitably encounter technical issues. While the delay of the two vessels under construction at Port Glasgow has unfortunately had a big impact, we cannot go on like this or wait until 2023.

‘The west coast needs additional ferries, whether they are built or chartered from elsewhere, as a matter of urgency.’

Scottish Conservative, Jamie Greene MSP, said: ‘While we all understand the need to support other island communities, Arran residents will nonetheless be disappointed to learn they have to endure another fortnight with a reduced ferry service, after already putting up with years of chaos and disruption on the route.

‘The SNP’s inability to renew our ferry network has left Scotland with an ageing fleet that is struggling to meet the needs of island communities.

‘Ministers in Edinburgh must make restoring full capacity to the Arran ferry route – and finally delivering the long overdue Glen Sannox – a priority.

‘Arran residents have put up with delays and disruption for long enough.’

To try and make up for the shortfall while the Ardrossan to Brodick route remains a one-vessel service, CalMac has increased sailings on the Lochranza to Claonaig route, doubling its capacity, but this service is not bookable and entails a lengthy detour.

To help support customers who have urgent medical appointments on the mainland CalMac has introduced a protocol for residents who are unable to book their vehicle on the ferry. This can be found on their website or by calling the CalMac Customer Contact Centre on 0800 066 5000.

Kenneth Gibson MSP, has called for a meeting with Scottish Ministers, making the suggestions that replacement vessels should be leased to ensure a lifeline service.

 

Jamie Greene MSP, has called for the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry route to be restored to full capacity. No_B21cover01

Kenneth Gibson MSP, has called for a meeting with Scottish Ministers, making the suggestions that replacement vessels should be leased to ensure a lifeline service. No_B21cover02