Inquiry finds lack of forward planning led to fiasco

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Arran Ferry Committee (AFC) met with CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond and his operations management team remotely last week to review the incident on October 10 which closed Ardrossan to outgoing traffic, whilst continuing to operate traffic from Brodick. They were joined on the call by Transport Scotland’s head of ferries.

CalMac has now provided its incident report on the event, which was not available prior to the meeting, and the ferry committee will be following up all actions with some changes already implemented. The discussions also included the arrangements at Claonaig and the lack of forward planning to manage traffic and safety.

Here is the ferry committee report of the November 2 meeting.

Main story

The chairman Iain Thomson welcomed everyone and asked the question: ‘Why did Ardrossan require to be closed to outgoing traffic for a full day?’

AFC had requested sight of CalMac’s risk analysis for the port and a copy of the incident reports which CalMac were expected to have prepared. Nothing was presented and AFC considered it indicated a lack of urgency or recognition of the severity of the impact the incident had for the island.

Mr Drummond  gave an assurance that it was recognised it was severe, however, defended the decisions by reminding the meeting they were operating in a pandemic and they had to follow the guidelines as set out by government health and MCA regulators. CalMac could not quantify the numbers of customers or vehicles impacted by this incident.

It was explained staff at Ardrossan are divided by outside and inside operations and, on this occasion, it was a relative of one of the port staff initially identified on October 9. Then, on the morning of October 10, a member of the office staff tested positive and the close contacts were all recommended to isolate until they had shown a negative result. Due to the regulations, they were advised that close contacts going back several days – October 6 – were impacted, which meant all available staff left. That affected 23 of the 28 staff, with others unavailable for other reasons.

Berthing staff remained on site to allow the first sailing from Brodick to berth which brought over pier staff who then operated the ropes and berthing for the remainder of the day to allow traffic to continue to travel from Brodick.

Outgoing traffic was unable to be loaded due to no admin staff to check numbers and bookings. This was challenged and several alternatives suggested to understand if they had been considered and why they weren’t implemented. In the absence of any detailed analysis, it was reported that MCA rules all dictated they could not introduce any alternatives.

Comparison with road and rail transport operators was considered inappropriate as they had alternatives for drivers and staffing. Comparison was also made between how other businesses had adapted to changing COVID rules, yet CalMac were perceived to have been operating a much stricter regime. In the discussion, there was never a suggestion that safety be compromised.

AFC simply requested explanations for the decisions. Transport Scotland took an action to check if government guidelines were appropriate for ferries and what could be considered if future occasions arose.

It was repeatedly stated by AFC that traffic, both foot and vehicles, could have safely been accommodated with some forward planning and on the day management. MCA regulations were again presented as not negotiable. CalMac were actioned to speak to MCA and present a scenario outlining alternative procedures based on the incident which may be considered to maintain service in extreme cases.

It was also acknowledged that the CalMac risk analysis had not considered such an
obvious eventuality and this will be reviewed.

CalMac had indicated in its initial response to AFC on October 11 that it would present an incident report and AFC again demanded this should be provided.

One key element of the incident was the lack of any senior management at the port to speak with customers. CalMac had staffing limitations on other Clyde ports and had no contingency for such an occasion due to general staffing pressures including an inability to hire. Staff were identified from Oban.

However, they were unfamiliar with Ardrossan procedures so travelled to Brodick to release staff there to attend Ardrossan on October 11. The decision to have the staff isolate also meant Gourock could not be considered as it is Ardrossan staff who relocate there if that destination is used.

It was asked why staff had not travelled over Sunday evening to allow the 7am service to operate and there was no explanation given. With staff levels so critical, it was asked if CalMac had retained all their summer numbers. It advised recruiting was very difficult, and it continues to advertise for staff.

AFC voiced its frustration and anger at the perceived lack of responsiveness or any demonstrable improvement plans being presented to the meeting. CalMac was reminded that the island community, economy and reputation were all adversely impacted by these events and even national radio was giving negative publicity to the failure of the services.

The discussion moved to why all the traffic for all sailings on Sunday was directed to Claonaig which is provided by a vessel which has 30 per cent of the MV Caledonian Isles capacity and no services or representatives were available to manage the traffic. The potential safety implications for CalMac customers and the community of Skipness by the volumes of traffic potentially blocking emergency vehicle access to the area was highlighted and acknowledged for review.

Reports suggest up to 170 vehicles were waiting to travel mid-afternoon. Destruction of the roadside verges has also been highlighted and the lack of toilets again highlights that urgent consideration must be given to provide temporary services at the port. CalMac agreed to review procedures and the communications to recognise the limited capacity when redirecting vehicles.

Suggestions were provided to consider marshalling off site with boarding tickets issued in the same way supermarkets control queuing, but they were generally dismissed on the basis that CalMac couldn’t stop customers travelling to the location. This was again challenged and demand for improved procedures repeated.

General customer care and handling of communications of high demand during incidents was mentioned with examples provided at Ardrossan where customers were ‘discouraged’ from using the standby lane. This will be reviewed and appropriate revisions to staff advising customers updated.

AFC thanked Transport Scotland and CalMac for their time and look forward to receiving the incident reports and other feedback on actions identified with timescales for change indicated.


The ferry disembarked passengers at Ardrossan on the day of the fiasco but would not let anyone on. 01_B06harbour01