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By Hugh Boag
Hopes of getting a second ferry to ease pressure on 38-year-old MV Isle of Arran ,which is trying to serve the island on its own, collapsed this week.
By Tuesday it became clear that there was little chance of back up to the single ferry operating as a result of the devastating failure of an engine on the MV Caledonian Isles, now under repair in Troon.
One of the options the Arran Ferry Committee had been pressing for was back up from the MV Isle of Lewis, but she developed a technical fault to make this impossible. A second vessel considered has also been ruled out.
Talks which have involved transport minister Jenny Gilruth, CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland have been going on all week, but while the ferry committee feel they are being heard, it is not yeilding too much improvement.
It has been confirmed that work is progressing round the clock on the Caley Isles which is expected back in operation by Tuesday May 3, or earlier if works are completed before then.
The island has faced a week of persistent disruption to businesses, islanders and the tourist trade after the main Arran ferry broke down on Easter Sunday – one of the busiest days of the year.
It has left the island being serviced by the sometimes unreliable MV Isle of Arran which cannot be booked and is operating on a first come, first served basis.
There has been widespread criticism of how slow CalMac has been to react, leaving the island feeling abandoned again.
The broken ferry has now limped to Troon but an update on the progress of the repair to her port engine was not due until today (Friday) after The Arran Banner went to press.
But the signs were far from hopeful with a CalMac spokeswoman saying: ‘MV Caledonian Isles is expected to be out of service for a period of time and we will provide an update on Friday regarding this and all options will be investigated’
The situation has made headline news on TV, radio and national newspapers and been discussed incessantly on social media – but without any resolution.
The ferry committee has been working flat out trying to arrange a suitable service in the short term and want to see a second boat brought in to prop-up the lifeline service. They argue that Arran lost its second ferry for two months last year – April and May – when it was required as a temporary replacement to MV Loch Seaforth on the Ullapool to Stornoway route.
A ferry committee spokesman said: ‘This time last year when another major vessel failed, we immediately lost our second vessel without consultation. We now demand we are treated consistently.
‘Sailings for the busiest route in the network are now operating at less than half the expected capacity and no-one can book capacity. Our suppliers, residents and business cannot plan any travel which is unacceptable.
‘CalMac senior management have not fully engaged with the community to understand the implications of this failure and the effect it will have and we are following up with all official bodies to determine a practical solution,’ he added
CalMac said provision of a second ferry was not possible owing to demand throughout the network and the fact there are no spare vessels.
The MV Isle of Arran has been doing extra sailings all week but some of these have been limited by tidal restrictions. The MV Catriona is operating a shuttle service on the Lochranza/Claonaig route, with MV Loch Riddon joining her from Largs today.
‘We appreciate this is a busy holiday period and we are doing all we can to help passengers complete their journeys. Disrupting a sailing is a decision we do not take lightly and we apologise to our customers and communities.’
A spokesman for the ferry committee said: ‘IoAFC have been in constant contact with CalMac since the incident occurred to help optimise the limited capacity and identify potential additional resources and demand action.
‘Communications have included the Minister for Transport and the Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.
‘IoAFC officers have met with senior CalMac management and have scheduled a meeting with Transport Scotland to discuss option to add additional tonnage or extra capacity to assist whilst repairs are being carried out.
‘The MV Caledonian Isles has been moved to Troon to free up the Arran berth and allow the investigations and repairs to progress. This improves the options and flexibility in changing weather variations to maintain the service.
‘Limited vehicle capacity will prioritise essential goods, services and guidelines are being developed to cover these customers.
‘Motorhomes and caravans are being directed to Lochranza and Claonaig where an extra vessel has been deployed to provide capacity when required.
‘Fuel supplies are being maintained and food and livestock feed supplies are also being monitored.’