The Scottish Government is “actively exploring” chartering ferries in a bid to minimise “intolerable” disruption to lifeline sailings to the islands, the new transport minister has said.
Graeme Dey told MSPs the move is being considered after CalMac services were hit when its largest vessel, the MC Loch Seaforth, needed repairs.
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said he has been inundated with messages from residents who have been hit by the loss of the ferry – which had sailed on the Ullapool to Stornoway route.
Raising the issue at Holyrood, Allan said: “I have been deluged in recent weeks by emails from families desperate to visit relatives on the mainland who have had long booked tickets cancelled, businesses who can no longer get building materials to the islands or export shellfish, and tourist businesses struggling to cope with the news that all bookings are suspended for a fortnight.
“The MV Loch Seaforth is CalMac’s largest major vessel but she is also CalMac’s newest. She should not be experiencing technical issues of this severity.”
CalMac, the state-owned ferry operator, confirmed last month that specialist engineers are currently working on the vessel’s engines, saying it will be “back in service as soon as possible”.
But while the ferry is undergoing repairs, other services on the CalMac timetable have been affected.
Graeme Dey said since becoming transport minister he has “very much prioritised these issues”.
He added: “I entirely recognise the intolerable nature of the situation for islanders on an individual and economic basis.
“I also realise what they want is action rather than warm words. I am very much open to constructive, viable suggestions for improving matters.
“We are currently actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage, including consideration of the suitability of the MV Pentalina to increase resilience across the network.”
He said CalMac is “fully focused on getting the Loch Seaforth back into service as soon as possible” with specialist reports being done to discover the cause of problems.
But Labour West of Scotland MSP Katy Clark hit out at the Government and said: “Part of the reason we have this problem is the failure since 2011 to commission sufficient vessels.”