THE largest and newest ferry in the CalMac fleet broke down – on its first day back after a refit.

Ferry and ports owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) acquired MV Loch Seaforth, which sails between Ullapool in Wester Ross and Stornoway on Lewis, from Lloyds Banking Group last month.

But yesterday, after a two-week long annual refit in Birkenhead, it was stuck in Stornoway with an engine problem, which it developed on its return from the Cammell Laird shipyard.

“A technical issue continues to keep the MV Loch Seaforth out of service,” said a spokesman for CalMac. “We are currently employing all resources to try and resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

The MV Isle of Lewis will remain on the Ullapool Stornoway route until the situation is resolved. 

“We apologise for any inconvenience this delayed return to service may cause.”

The breakdown has caused knock-on effects for other services on the network.

The bank controversially financed the building of the Seaforth and leased it to CMAL, which is Scottish Government-owned, for the past five years.

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Under the initial deal, the ferry service to the Western Isles would have cost taxpayers at least £67 million by 2022 –but the bankers would still own the passenger ship.

Transport chiefs at first kept details of the taxpayer-funded lease deal secret.

But last year it emerged that the eight-year lease will cost around £36m, on top of £31m spent on upgrading harbours to accommodate the boat. The  Government said the purchase of the lease would save public money in the long-term.

Operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, the 116m-long Loch Seaforth can carry up to 143 cars as well as 700 passengers. Built in Germany at a cost of £42m, the ferry has been in service since 2015 and is the largest and fastest in CMAL’s fleet.

Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse last month welcomed the acquisition of the Loch Seaforth. He said the move would bring “considerable financial benefits” by delivering savings to taxpayers over the long-term when compared with a more expensive leasing arrangement.

The MV Loch Seaforth last year broke down halfway to Stornoway, leaving 343 passengers and crew stranded for hours before power was partially restored.

Islanders say their requests for a two-ferry service were ignored.

CMAL is owned by the Scottish Government and in turn leases the vessel to publicly-owned operator CalMac.

The body has always cited “commercial confidentiality” for not revealing the full cost of the
Seaforth deal.

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Shipping specialist Professor Alf Baird, a member of the Scottish Government’s expert ferry group, said last year: “We seem incapable of making sensible decisions when it comes to the public procurement of ferries.

“The Seaforth deal stands out because of all the upfront harbour costs you had but also the expensive way to access the finance. I have likened this to a Private Finance Initiative deal as it seems it is the banks who do the best out of it.”

Last week the Scottish Government was slammed by a Labour MSP for its “shambolic mismanagement” of the Scottish ferry network.

In Scottish Parliament, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This government’s record in providing ferry services has been abysmal.

“When Loch Seaforth was built for the Stornoway to Ullapool route, the community wanted two smaller boats. This would enable more sailings in summer and provide cover throughout the fleet in the winter for dry-docking.

“Instead, the government gave them one large vessel that does not provide sufficient capacity in the summer and sails half empty in the winter.”

She added: “You could not make it up.”