ISLANDERS have been hiring fishing boats and inflatables for essential journeys after only a third of sailings went ahead in February.

It is claimed the islands' economy has been battered and businesses are struggling amid cancellations.

Islanders on Coll and Tiree, which share one ferry and have no other ferry route to the mainland, have written to CalMac, MSPs and the Scottish Government to “express their anger and frustration” after CalMac’s latest route performance data show that for Coll only about 33% of sailings in February were successful.

They had to resort to hiring fast RIBs at over £500 for travel to or from Oban, a group of travellers paid for a private plane charter at £1100 and one resident had to hire a fishing boat to get to the mainland.

It is also claimed one single ferry cancellation cost a guest house £1450 in lost income.

With a winter timetable giving only five sailings per week to and from Oban, that equated to one to two sailings per week, while Tiree received between two to three sailings per week.

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CalMac has apologised to the community councils of the two islands, which have a combined population of over 800 people.

Rob Wainwright, convener of Coll Community Council, said: “The current unreliability of the ferry service on this route has seen a hugely negative impact on the economy, the provision of all services and ultimately on islanders' quality of life on Coll and Tiree. With only seven return trips Coll-Oban achieved in the whole of February, running a business, let alone trying to live out here is becoming unsustainably challenging.”

“The ferry provision needs a full rethink, not some sticking plaster measures to get us by. And that needs to happen at both CalMac management level and higher up at Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government. And it needs to happen soon or next year will see a repeat of winter chaos.”

Dr John Holliday, convener of the Tiree Community Council, said: “If you live on an island like Tiree, you’re used to working around cancelled ferries. But the situation since our main ferry got taken into dry dock after New Year has been something else. I have businesses telling me they have lost thousands of pounds. The Tiree Trust can’t get their community turbine up and running again. It’s been a disaster.”

He noted that Tiree is almost a four-hour ferry trip from the mainland and that the piers on Tiree and Coll are arguably the most exposed in Scotland.   For a service to succeed,  powerful boats are needed to get alongside in the face of a big Atlantic swell. 

He added: “It’s not the fault of the teams on the boats or the teams doing their best to move vessels around from route to route.  It’s the fault of the Scottish Government. The new ferries promised for next year are ten years too late.”

“Our main challenge on Tiree, and doubtless on Coll, is retaining population. When you look at the three months we’ve just had, you can understand when people say enough is enough.”

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We are extremely sorry about the impact that disruption is having on our customers and communities. 

“Without doubt, this has been an awful period for them, with extreme and unprecedented weather conditions affecting services across the network. We have experienced more weather disruptions in the first seven weeks of 2022 than during the whole of 2012.

“We recently commenced a review of our scheduled overhaul relief plans for Winter 2022/23 to determine whether there are alternative vessel options that could provide a more resilient service for the Coll and Tiree communities. This is becoming more challenging as our vessels face longer periods in dry dock to complete unplanned maintenance work. However, we fully appreciate how critical the service is to sustainable island life and are exploring further options to deliver a more resilient service during the overhaul period. Once we have a clear view of our plans we will communicate these back to the community.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Ministers  fully recognise the need to address delays in investment in ferry infrastructure which is why they have committed to the £580 million in the Infrastructure Investment Plan. However, it is clear that winter weather, combined with the pandemic and its impact on staff, have increasingly impacted on Cal Mac’s fleet this year – in ways never previously witnessed.  

“Having confidence in ferry services can impact upon people’s decision on whether to live and work on the islands, and impacts upon the sustainability of the island communities themselves. These human impacts are at the heart of Scottish Ministers’ commitment to supporting lifeline services through continued investment in ferry services across Scotland.”

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