With Heb Isles in for repairs, CalMac charters replacement vessel to reduce underprovision for Islay

[Update below – 29 July] Ferry operator CalMac has chartered a freight vessel for the next six days to ease disruption on the Islay service, following the MV Hebridean Isles being taken out of service for repairs after a coming together with the pier at  Kennacraig.

The very busy Islay service is currently being supported by a single vessel, the MV Finlaggan. the island’s principal ferry and one of the newest in the elderly and eclectic CMAL fleet.

The MV Red Princess, a cargo vessel that normally ships timber to Ayr, will ferry car traffic from Kennacraig to Islay and back to ease congestion on the route while the Heb Isles is being put right.

CalMac’s operations director, Drew Collier says: ”This is a stop gap in order to minimise disruption where possible; we are endeavouring to get everyone to Islay and back who wants to go.

‘Unfortunately, it may not be on the sailing originally booked as we have had to amend timetables, but we are all working extremely hard to get people where they want to go and appreciate passengers’ understanding.

‘CalMac engineers have also got the Finlaggan’s mezzanine vehicle deck back in action to ease queues.

‘We would urge people to think about whether they need to bring their car to the island over the next week and whether or not they would be prepared to have it shipped separately.

‘We are confident we can get vehicles back to people who choose this option promptly and will provide extra help with luggage and free taxi or minibus transport on the island in the meantime.’

The Red Princess cannot carry passengers but will be able to transport 20 cars or a number of commercial vehicle.

Mr Collier admits: ‘There will be delays due to the nature of the operation unfortunately, however we are determined to continue to deliver a service that meets the needs of island residents and visitors, we appreciate people’s patience,” he said.

‘Our customer contact team will be in touch with everyone who is booked on the service over the next week to let them know what their options are and how we propose to get them to their destination and when.

‘Again we would like to apologise for any inconvenience.’

Extra capacity is also being provided on Saturday through private charter to support the Colonsay route which, is also usually served by the MV Hebridean Isles. CalMac has not yet identified the nature of this private charter vessel so we do not know whether it is passenger only or is capable of taking vehicles.

It is anticipated that the Hebridean Isles  will be out of service for ‘around a week’.

Customers concerned about their journey should contact CalMac’s customer care helpline on 0800 066 5000.

Update – 29 July: The Saturday private charter for Colonsay is for passengers and bicycles only – CalMac say that this was the requirement. It is therefore likely to be one of the local RedBay Stormforce RIBS.

In response to our second question, CalMac say that the mezzanine car deck on MV Finlaggan had been out of action ‘for months’.

A reader has just put to us the following questions on the matter – we will put the questions to CalMac but our own understanding of the situation is given in italics after each question:

(1) who is liable  for this  Breakdown/Repairs? Is  Cmal/Calmac or AN Other? AN Other – us, the taxpayers. Formally, it will be CalMac’s responsibility since the compulsory contractual leasing of the CMAL fleet requires the boats to be ‘returned’ in the state in which they were leased. His outs the responsibility for maintenance and repair wholly upon CalMac. With both companies state owned, the cost would always be borne by the Scottish Government – aka the taxpayer – either way.

(2)  what are the governing  charter party terms and conditions between CMAL /Calmac  that apply to breakdowns. See answer above. CalMac is wholly responsible.

(3) who is picking up the bill for the Red Princess, and repairs to the Hebridean Isles, other than the sore pressed Scottish Tax payer. It is always and only the taxpayer.

The reader who sent the question has also said that local speculation has always had it that the Finlaggan’s problematic mezannine deck only works when the crew is minded to bring it into operation. It is certainly interesting that the mezzanine deck had been out of action ‘for months’ but that when extra capacity became an emergency need, ‘CalMac’s engineers’ were able to fix it.

The reader in question added that this break down of the Hebridean Isles [which is  not a breakdown but a necessary repair to collision damage] ‘follows lengthy breakdowns to MV’s Isle of Lewis and Isle of Arran, demonstrating clearly the the lack of any credible back-up  within the Calmac CHFS  network to minimise network dislocation from such eventualities. The evidence suggests operating over-age ferry units may be a contributory factor.’ This last is of course correct. The Scottish Government has not invested in regular fleet renewals and CalMac, as the operator compelled to take the asset holding company’s elderly fleet, is left to take the service users’ flak for the inevitably increasing rate of breakdowns.

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