New year sees little cheer as ‘perfect storm’ halts ferries

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By Hugh Boag

Arran faced another week of travel chaos as a ‘perfect storm’ of disruption caused by atrocious weather and Covid staff shortages seriously impacted ferry services.

Arran’s new year got off to the worst possible start with passengers stranded on both sides of the Firth of Clyde after all ferries on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route cancelled last Sunday, leaving those who had travelled to Arran for their New Year celebrations stuck on the island. Others trying to get home had to spend another night on the mainland.

That was followed by the vital 7am service being cancelled three days in a row and on Tuesday there was just a single sailing in the morning before the sailings were cancelled for the rest of the day due to adverse weather.

As disruption continued this week the refit of the MV Caledonian Isles delayed so it could help try to maintain a lifeline service. But another Covid incident brought further disruption to planned additional sailings by the MV Hebridean Isles on Wednesday being cancelled

Additional sailings from Lochranza to both Claonaig and Tarbert were being run by the MV Loch Tarbert this week to try to help the situation.

Stranded visitors on the island last week also led to a scramble for beds but this was resolved by the joint efforts of Auchrannie Resort and VisitArran, although work on a more robust contingency plan in the wake of such future incidents continues apace.

With supplies beginning to run low on the island the Co-op working with CalMac were able to get five delivery trucks stuck on the island off on Wednesday morning with two full trucks making the return journey.

The latest disruption came after CalMac announced a temporary timetable for the route which had left Arran with just one replacement ferry for most of January, the MV Hebridean Isles, to cover for the MV Caledonian Isles which is now expected to leave for her annual overhaul today (Friday).

Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group, said last weekend was ‘complete chaos’ with ‘passengers abandoned on both sides of the Firth of Clyde’.

‘Between Covid, weather and infrastructure issues we are facing a perfect storm of disruption. Islanders travelling for healthcare or work are facing significant disruption. It’s going to be a very challenging few weeks for all of the island communities up and down the west coast.

‘This combined with the ongoing problems with the berth in Ardrossan, resulting in the regular cancellation of the key 7am service from Ardrossan to Brodick, means we are now facing a serious crisis of connectivity.’

He added capacity could be regularly limited to 40 per cent of normal levels for the next few weeks, without any other weather or technical disruption.

And added: ‘The community on Arran has proposed various practical options to mitigate the ongoing effects caused by the disruption on the main route.  These have been roundly rejected thus far by CalMac,’

A CalMac spokeswoman said on Wednesday: ‘We apologise for the recent disruption caused to scheduled sailings to and from Arran. In spite of our very best efforts to maintain services, the unprecedented speed of the spread of covid cases at this time is resulting in the need to cancel services at very short notice. Although we re-crewed and deep cleaned the MV Caledonian Isles after confirmed covid cases were identified, poor weather then prevented any further sailings from going ahead.

‘MV Caledonian Isles returned to service on the Ardrossan-Brodick route on Monday and MV Loch Tarbert operated three return sailings to Lochranza from Tarbert.

‘MV Hebridean Isles has now also returned to service. However due to continuing adverse weather, all sailings between Ardrossan-Brodick were cancelled for the remainder of yesterday. MV Loch Alainn operated additional sailings to help provide additional capacity to Arran during this exceptional period.’

Last week CalMac said that 93 crew and 18 port staff were unavailable because of Covid. This equates to a Covid absence rate of 9 per cent amongst vessel crews and 5 per cent amongst port staff and is in addition to a non-coronavirus absence rate of 6 per cent.

In a statement issued on Hogmanay Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing director, said: ‘Over the past week the number of Covid-related absences amongst vessel crew has increased by 166 per cent, from 35 on Christmas Eve to 93 today. Covid absences amongst port staff have risen by one third over the same period. The loss of such large numbers of staff makes it necessary for us to take immediate action to try and preserve essential services to communities.

‘We fully appreciate the difficulties these changes will cause for some of our customers, and we apologise for any disruption that may result. However, because this situation is changing rapidly, we must protect core services, which is why we are now having to introduce this temporary timetable.’



The MV Caledonian Isles and MV Hebridean Isles lie storm bound in Brodick on Tuesday.


Five Co-op lorries line-up to board the MV Caledonian Isles after delivering vital supplies. NO_B01ferries01

The MV Caledonian Isles and MV Hebridean Isles lie storm bound in Brodick on Tuesday. 01_B01ferries02