CRITICS have called for an urgent overhaul of Scotland’s ferry services as thousands of travellers saw their plans thrown into chaos by last minute cancellations and timetable changes.

Islanders have faced widespread disruption following an engine failure on CalMac’s MV Clansman ferry while it was sailing from Oban to Tiree last weekend.

The Scottish Tories have now accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty” amid warnings a long-term plan is needed to deliver new ferries and replace Scotland’s ageing fleet.

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It comes just weeks after it emerged the delivery of two long-awaited vessels has been delayed indefinitely, with millions of pounds likely to be added to their £97m cost.

Rob McKinnon, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said there was a groundswell of feeling among locals and businesses that something must be done.

He said: “The challenge is that there’s no spare capacity. That’s partly a story of success, that volume has grown.

“Partly it’s because capacity that was due to come on is still in the yard – or still on the drawing board, to be honest.

“Any problem just leads to a domino effect going through the route.”

Mr McKinnon said there were positive moves to address issues but “not a lot of confidence that that is going to change things”.

He said businesses fear the economic impact of ferry cancellations and breakdowns.

Yesterday, locals and visitors faced being stranded on the mainland as the Isle of Mull ferry ditched some of its scheduled sailings to help out on the Oban to Tiree route.

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Alistair MacDougall, of MacDougall's Garage in Bunessan, Mull, said businesses and holidaymakers had been hit.

He said: "We were sending a truck to Glasgow and we were booked on the Craignure to Oban boat, but it was cancelled.

“I have just found out that the driver had to go via Lochaline. Our driver will now be stuck in Oban tonight because the last ferry to Mull has been cancelled too.

"It's a case of waiting and waiting to see what happens. They haven't got the back-up ferries but I don't see why CalMac can't put extra ferry runs on through the night.

"There are people on holiday who, after travelling long distances to get to Mull are leaving the island early to make sure they get home."

Meanwhile, some of the 400 entrants for tomorrow’s Mull Sportive, an annual charity cycle race, have pulled out due to the uncertainty.

Joe Reade, one of the organisers of the Mull Cycle Club event, said: "There are quite a few people who have cancelled because to travel via Lochaline (an alternative ferry route) is too far if people have to get home for a particular time and they can't.

"The local CalMac staff are doing the best they can, but the problem is they haven't got enough extra boats.”

It comes after the Clansman suffered engine problems on its way to Tiree on Sunday, and was forced to do an about-turn to Oban for repair.

Author Vilborg Davíðsdóttirn, who was travelling with a large group from Iceland, said: "It was certainly a great disappointment for our group of 46 Icelanders not being able to visit Tiree.

"Accommodation for the whole trip was booked a year ago and there was nothing to be found near Oban, so we had to go all the way back to Glasgow to get accommodation, after spending seven hours at sea."

Elsewhere, Barra councillor Donald Manford urged CalMac to provide extra inter-island ferry sailings to cope with soaring demand across the Western Isles this summer.

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Scottish Tory transport spokesman Jamie Greene said: “It’s no surprise to anyone who uses Scotland’s ferries that it takes just one vessel to go offline and the whole network is affected, causing misery to so many during the important peak tourist season.

“The SNP were warned repeatedly that failure to deliver new vessels and a long term plan to replace an ageing fleet would result in travel chaos for thousands of our island residents

“This is a complete dereliction of duty by the SNP who have had their head in the sands for a long time over this mess. The Scottish Government must get a grip of this situation - we need new ferries and we need them pronto.”

In April, Scottish ministers confirmed the construction of two new ferries – the MV Glenn Sannox and a second vessel known as Hull 802 – had been delayed indefinitely, amid a contractual dispute over costs.

A CalMac spokesman said: “A failure of one of the MV Clansman’s engines on May 26 while on passage from Oban to Tiree, required the vessel to return to the mainland.

“This has meant a temporary timetable being deployed to ensure that traffic continues to move to where it needs to go.

“While working on the fault engineers have unfortunately uncovered further technical issues that need addressed which will delay the vessel's return until the middle of next week. The temporary timetable will continue until then and passengers should check the website for the latest service updates.

“We would like to apologise for any passengers inconvenienced by this disruption and would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding while we work to get things back to normal.”