MSP takes up fight for skipper training to stop cancellations

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CalMac has admitted that some of its skippers are neither experienced nor competent enough to sail to Ardrossan or Gourock as port of refuge in moderate, not to mention bad weather

This is leading to sailings being needlessly cancelled.

Concerns were first raised at the virtual meeting of the Arran Ferry Committee last week that skippers were being over-cautious.

After CalMac admitted there was an issue, Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson raised the matter at the Scottish parliament.

Mr Gibson asked: ‘What discussions has the minister had with CalMac regarding the training of skippers to minimise the problem of sailings being needlessly cancelled?’

Transport minister Graeme Dey replied: ‘I stress that, as I am sure Kenny Gibson agrees, decisions on the safety of passage and berthing at various ports must lie with the masters of the vessels concerned.

‘It would be wrong for anyone to challenge those individual decisions, which are always taken on the basis of the safety of passengers, the crew and the vessel.

‘Officials have been in dialogue with CalMac on the matter over the past 48 hours because what has been suggested is concerning. It has emerged that all the crews are fully trained.

‘Experienced masters are familiar with specific routes and, in normal circumstances, will be deployed in those locations.

‘However, given the acute circumstances at the moment as a result of Covid-related absences, there have been crews on vessels that are less familiar with particular routes to ensure that the service operates.

‘It is, of course, ideal that crews be familiar with alternative ports and trained in using them.

‘CalMac looks to work towards that but, to do that, vessels need to be taken out of service. Equally, I understand the impact that the issue is having and the concerns of ferry users.’

Meanwhile, West Scotland MSP Katy Clark has called on the Scottish government to come forward with an emergency plan to address the Arran ferries fiasco.

She said the long term failure to invest in new vessels had ‘crippled’ the network.

Ms Clark, who represents Scottish Labour, commented: ‘It’s now reaching crisis point for Arran residents who rely on these lifeline ferry services.

‘This is clearly an exceptional period, with Covid-19 exacerbating the situation and reducing staff levels. But the network has been crippled by poor infrastructure planning and years of under-investment.

‘We now need to see a full Scotland-wide ferry strategy to commission a new fleet as a matter of urgency.

‘Scouring the globe for cheap second-hand vessels is not the answer – we need ferries to be built here in Scotland, operated in the public sector with workers and local communities consulted every step of the way.’