[Updated below 21.45] There are now widespread concerns about the impact on the CalMac schedules of the vessels they lease from CMAL – the Scottish Government owned asset holding company.
For the last ten days or so there have been serial disruptions to services across the CalMac network, from the Western Isles to the Cumbraes in the Clyde.
In almost every case, the problems are technical issues with vessels requiring repairs. Some vessels have been taken out of service for a substantial period, some for lesser periods.
Take tomorrow, 18th January, for example.
The Islay service from Kennacraig is disrupted with the MV Isle of Arran withdrawn from service from 13th January ‘until further notice’. That remains the case.
The Oban-Coll-Tiree service is disrupted because of necessary repairs to the MV Hebridean Isles.
The Mallaig-Lochboisdale service – the NEW pilot service – is disrupted of ‘essential repairs’ to MV Lord of the Isles.
The Wemyss Bay-Rothesay route saw MV Bute require repairs, leading to the MV Coruisk being withdrawn from her first winter service on the Argyll Ferries’ Gourock to Dunoon passenger service.
The Berneray – Leverburgh service across Sound of Harris is disrupted from 13th to 31st January January, running on an amended timetable. This may be due to the vessel’s scheduled annual refit and we have asked CalMac if this is the case.
We have asked CalMac for information on the specific problems suffered by each of the four ferries listed above; and for a prognosis on when their repairs will be completed.
This Berneray-Leverburgh route apart, tomorrow will see four ferries simultaneously undergoing various repairs – MV Isle of Arran; MV Hebridean Isles; MV Lord of the Isles; MV Bute. This seems unprecedented.
We had already inquired of CalMac as to whether there had been a change to the maintenance frequencies of the vessels. We were assured vigorously – and believe without question, because of the known integrity of the source – that this has not been the case.
This leaves only a question over the age and reliability of the CMAL fleet.
We note that the Scottish Ferries Review mentions only:
- The purchase of a passenger only vessel [route unspecified] during the period of CalMac’s currrent interim contract on he Clyde and Hebridean services – from Autumn 2013 to Autumn 2016.
- The purchase of an additional passenger and vehicle vessel during the main Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services [CHFS] contract – whose tendering is due to begin this Autumn, 2014, with the successful bidder’s contract not due to commence until Autumn 2016 and running for at least six years.
With four of CMAL’s vehicle and passenger vessels stricken at the same time in this winter of 2013-14,the Scottish Government’s investment programme is looking increasingly unfit for purpose.
If this fleet is to continue to be a credible foundation for a west coast ferry services operator of lifeline services to the islands, a single new vehicle and passenger vessel – potentially not entering service until 2022 and possibly later – is not adequate, given the current evidence of serviceability.
If a government intending to take Scotland into independence cannot envisage an investment greater than for a single new vessel for the complex Clyde and Hebridean network- and years down the road, what sort of credibility can be placed in the First Minister’s boast that such an independent Scotland would have patrol boats and ‘some’ of the new Type 25 Global Combat Type 26 vessels which will replace the Type 23 frigates?
However, in the immediate future, there will need to be evidenced reassurance to the public on the fitness and future of the CMAL fleet.
Update 21.45: A spokesman from CalMac has let us know that MV Bute had a clutch fault; and MV Isle of Arran suffered a propeller system fault. Both are due back in service over this weekend.
The company will inform us on the specific problems of MV Hebridean Isles and MV Lord of the Isles as soon as possible.
The Berneray-Leverburgh disruption is indeed due to the vessel’s annual refit.