Stranded passengers fury at ferry fiasco

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 Claims Covid crisis could have been avoided

By Hugh Boag

There was growing anger at the management of CalMac this week after hundreds of ferry passengers were left stranded in Ardrossan on Sunday after a Covid outbreak at the ferry terminal halted all ferries to Arran.

Passengers caught up in the ‘shambles’ say the ferry company should have had contingency plans in place for such an eventuality which, many believe, was forseeable given what has been seen during the pandemic.

Passengers turning up at Ardrossan from mid-morning in cars and on foot were met with a notice informing them that all sailings to Arran were cancelled for the rest of the day.

Dozens of disgruntled passengers, many with young children in the car at the start of the school holidays, were left to hastily make other arrangements on their own as the PR nightmare developed for the ferry operator.

Those with cars and campervans were eventually offered the option of a three-hour, 130-mile drive, for additional sailings from Claonaig, but foot passengers were left high and dry.

More than 100 cars had to queue in the car parks and along the single track road on Kintyre for several hours.

An estimated 30 cars, which made the long trip, did not even make it to Arran before the service ended at 9pm. To add to the misery there are presently no toilet facilities at Claonaig.

The last ferry to leave Ardrossan was the 9.45am on Sunday but to add to the frustration the MV Caledonian Isles made three sailings from Brodick to the mainland, but refused to take even foot passengers over to Arran despite both residents and holidaymakers being stranded on the mainland.

There was further anger this week when it emerged that two passengers had been taken over on one of the ferry sailings, while everyone else was left behind – one of these turned out to be understandable as it involved a medical condition.

There has been criticism too at the fact that CalMac had no-one at the port advising passengers of the situation.

Instead people had to rely on the information via the CalMac website.

Ardrossan student Aileen Berry, who had been fishing at the pier, took it upon herself to try to help people who were unaware of the situation when arriving at the closed terminal offering information and advice using her own phone.

Other passengers gave directions to drivers who had no idea where Claonaig was or how to get there.

The day of frustration happened after two members of the Ardrossan port staff tested positive for Covid-19.

As a result all 23 staff on duty on Sunday were required to go for testing due to being close contacts.

As they were all close contacts, and had to leave to be tested and self-isolate while awaiting the test result, there was no member of Ardrossan staff who could be in attendance at the office.

CalMac says all other Clyde ports were contacted and asked if there was anyone available to provide cover at Ardrossan on short notice, but unfortunately they didn’t have anyone available.

Foot passengers arriving throughout the day had to either go home, if they could, or find alternative accommodation with family, friends or in nearby hotels and B&Bs. CalMac can now expect a wave of compensation claims as a result of the ferry cancellations.

CalMac staff came from Oban, via Claonaig, to Arran which allowed staff from Brodick to cover Ardrossan and the service resumed with the 8.20am sailing from Brodick on Monday.

The matter was raised at the Arran Ferry Committee meeting on Monday night which CalMac was unable to attend.

The committee has now written to CalMac’s managing director Robbie Drummond to voice its disappointment of the unsatisfactory arrangements applied to address the Covid-related disruption.

A spokesman said: ‘The AFC will be meeting with appropriate representatives to review risk management plans and drive the changes needed.

‘These changes must recognise responsibility for the carriage of foot passengers, connectivity between Ardrossan and Claonaig to ensure capacity is available and services provided, and improve communications to customers.’

A CalMac spokesman said on Monday: ‘In line with current Covid protocol, members of staff from the Ardrossan port office were required to self-isolate while they waited for PCR test results after two colleagues tested positive.

‘Extra sailings operated between Lochranza and Claonaig, and additional staff were brought in to cover the port, which is now operating normally again.

‘We apologise for any inconvenience caused to customers as a result of this enforced closure of the office due to Covid.’