A CATAMARAN owned by Orkney-based Pentland Ferries is undergoing sea trials ahead of its potential deployment on Scotland’s crisis-hit west coast ferry network.

Transport Scotland has revealed that the MV Pentalina is being taken through berthing trials at a number of ports and could be introduced to ease the pressure on CalMac’s ageing fleet.

It comes as efforts are made to address a hugely disrupted summer on the network, which has seen services to the islands come under pressure because of ferry breakdowns and emergency repairs.

Business groups have expressed deep concern over the impact on island economies.

Transport Scotland said: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting island communities and lifeline services by actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage.

“The MV Pentalina is undertaking berthing trials at a number of ports on the west coast to assist with assessing its potential suitability for these routes.

“Should the trials be completed successfully, CalMac will consult with relevant communities to discuss proposed timetables and deployment options and seek a commercial agreement with Pentland Ferries before deployment on the network.”

The development comes after the RMT union raised concern last week over the safety of the MV Pentalina after Transport Scotland said it was considering its use on CalMac routes. The RMT said the Pentalina had been laid up in Kirkwall since November, and raised concern over the appropriateness of the vessel's structure for the CalMac network.

However, Pentland Ferries hit back, saying the catamaran had been reissued with a full passenger safety certificate in March of this year.

Island campaigners have long argued that CMAL, the public body responsible for procuring ferries for Scotland’s west coast, should introduce catamarans to the fleet. However, CMAL has continually resisted those calls in favour of larger, higher-sided vessels.

A member of the Arran Ferry Action Group told The Herald it would be “the biggest piece of humble pie Transport Scotland has ever had to eat” should it be forced to introduce a catamaran to the network.