The MV Clansman’s breakdown caused severe disruption at the height of the busiest weekend of the year on the Isle of Barra.
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It occurred during the two-day Barrafest and left the majority of people who had planned to begin their journey back to the mainland on Saturday night, after the festival finished, stuck on the island when the ferry returned empty to Oban to undergo repairs.
It left the mainland again last night at 7.30pm, half an hour behind schedule, and was due to arrive in Castlebay sometime after midnight to return with the stranded passengers. Around 80 people made it off the island yesterday afternoon on another boat.
The 12-year-old Clansman had been out of service for a month for repairs to its starboard engine but returned to operational duties on Friday, in time for the first day of the music festival.
However, on Saturday, the boat developed a fault in its port engine on its way to Barra, breaking down some 20 miles south of the island.
It eventually limped into harbour two and a half hours late and left again without picking up waiting passengers.
A second ferry, MV Loch Nevis, which normally operates on the Small Isles routes, was diverted to Barra yesterday afternoon to collect a lorry carrying an expensive cargo of shellfish and take it to Mallaig.
The produce, worth thousands of pounds, was in danger of being lost had it not reached the mainland swiftly. Around 80 passengers were also able to travel on the Loch Nevis, leaving Barra at 2.30pm yesterday. Buses were laid on to take people from Mallaig to Oban and Glasgow.
A spokesman for CalMac apologised for the disruption. The delayed passengers were due to arrive in Oban around 5am today.
The recent troubles with the ferry have been described as a blow to the island economy, with some hoteliers claiming the disruption has cost them a quarter of their entire year’s takings, due to the ferry breakdown coinciding with peak season.
Guy Adams, one of the owners of the Isle of Barra Hotel, expressed frustration at the continuing problems.
“Most people are upset and angry but are totally impotent,” Adams said yesterday afternoon.
“We have been full over the festival and guests have been on several coach tours of the island already -- and they are now on another one to the same places they have already visited. But what else can they do?
“CalMac needs a suitable replacement vessel so that when there’s a problem like this there is adequate back-up.
“We have lost about 15% of our takings for the year -- because this has hit the main weeks -- due to the problems over the past month with the ferry.”
The boat which operated the route when the Clansman was out of service is smaller and Adams added: “Some people who travelled on the relief vessel say they are never coming back to the Western Isles -- they complain that the boat was full up, the crossing is too long and they were seasick.”
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: “There is no doubt that the local economy has suffered.
“The latest breakdown could not have come at a worst time. There were hundreds of people wanting to get back to the mainland.”