IT is one of the busiest routes on the ferry network with more than 600,000 people a year tramping or driving on and off the pier.

But islanders have long warned that the old structure at Craignure on Mull, owned by Argyll and Bute Council, is not coping with the new and bigger ships needed to carry visitors to and from the mainland.

Those warnings have now become a reality when Calmac’s busy Oban to Mull ferry service ground to a halt when part of the pier fell apart.

The travel plans of hundreds of people were disrupted on Sunday when the ferry service was temporarily suspended. 

It comes after Mull and Iona Ferry Committee warned in January that a transport crisis was looming because the council had failed to address the state of the pier.

Now Elizabeth Ferguson, chairwoman of the ferry committee, has written a damning letter to the council questioning its maintenance spend on an asset which brings in pier berthing dues of almost £1.5million a year.

She said: “Under its own weight and without any impact or encouragement this large timber – the job of which is to absorb the berthing force of ferries amounting to thousands of tonnes – simply fell away from the structure of the pier.”


The damage is extensive

CalMac had to immediately suspend all services and hundreds of travellers were severely impacted and rerouted via the Morven peninsula on the first busy weekend of the season.

“The certain impact on our economy and confidence in our islands as a destination is much harder to quantify.

“This incident raises doubts over the maintenance schedules and therefore the integrity of the pier as a whole.  How can it be that a structure that is presumably subject to regular, detailed inspection and repair, which is openly acknowledged to be at the end of its design life, can suffer from an unforced failure such as this?”

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Councillors and council officials met with ferry committee members and Mull community councillors on March 28 and claimed the pier was “fit for purpose”.

Islanders say they have been warning of the need for repairs for six years. Now they add that the pier will not be big enough for the larger ferry earmarked for the route from next summer.

Mrs Ferguson, calling on the council to compensate travellers affected by Sunday’s suspension, said: “This incident demonstrates to both islanders, visitors and CalMac crew that it is anything but fit for purpose.”

She is now asking the council to provide details of inspection routines for the pier, and a list of outstanding defects, as reported by CalMac’s own weekly checks.


Tobermory, Mull. 

Billy McClymont, chairman of Mull Community Council, said: “A week ago we were having a meeting with the council and they said the pier could continue for another 10 years, a week later a bit has fallen off. The pier takes in almost £1.5m a year. It’s the golden goose and it’s a real slap in the teeth that they have spent nothing on the pier.”

He said the community council was set to join Coll, Colonsay and Tiree, in a new Confederation of Islands being planned to fight for a bigger political voice for islanders, as they claim they have been ignored for years by the council and the Scottish Government.

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The new ferry is needed to handle a 40 per cent increase in the route’s traffic as a result of the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff in 2015.

A recent Scottish Transport Analysis Guide appraisal stated that the north and south berths at the pier were too short for larger ferries.

Critics say Highland Council and CMAL, the state body which owns Calmac ships and many ports, were further ahead dealing with similar issues.

Argyll MSP Michael Russell said: “I am very concerned about the pier. It is a vital link between Mull and Oban and it must be kept operational. The council also makes a considerable amount of money from it and has resisted community attempts to take it over.

“It is difficult to understand how a recent maintenance check found nothing amiss, so there needs to be some urgent work down to ensure its future, whilst work already under way in planning a replacement needs to be accelerated.

“I have already alerted the Islands and Ferry Minister to these problems and I will be supporting the Mull community in getting this sorted out.”


A ferry plies the Sound of Mull

Mull residents have previously warned that a cut in their ferry services left them facing a “winter of discontent”, which forced some families and businesses to consider moving to the mainland.

During summer months, two car ferries constantly make the 45-minute crossing between Oban and Craignure. But during the winter the 2,700 islanders had to cope with as few as four “lifeline” sailings a day, with just one ferry working the route.

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A council spokesman said: “We apologise for this brief disruption caused to ferry services by a displaced section of timber, which has now been successfully removed. 

“After inspecting the site we can confirm this timber section was not an integral part of the pier’s structure and removing it will have no implications on the use of the pier for the scheduled service vessels.”