A winter gale howled across the Western Isles this week. So too did a crescendo of protest.

Islanders are increasingly frustrated by the reliability of their ferries. Storms they expect.

They also expect state-owned operator CalMac to be able to handle them. It cannot.

The island of Barra went without its ferry to Oban on the mainland for four days this week.

That, said local councillors, means empty shelves in the island’s shops and fresh seafood not being sent to mainland and continental markets.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Council, blasted CalMac executives in an official statement.

“The ferry company’s mainland based senior management have no plan in place to prevent such an outcome. Instead of ensuring that bread and milk are on the shelves in Castlebay Co-op the company have again allowed this very situation to unfold with no service to Barra since Thursday,” it said.

“Island representatives and the business community have suggested a range of vessel redeployment options that were available to ensure some level of service was provided to get essential supplies to Barra this week when MV Isle of Lewis was withdrawn from service due to a technical fault. CalMac have ignored every suggestion favouring continuity of service elsewhere to providing a lifeline to Barra.”

The council has repeatedly called for CalMac to completely overhaul its approach to securing lifeline services when vessels are withdrawn for technical failures.

Nobody expects CalMac to sail in gales. What they want are back-up services. And ferries which do not break down.

CalMac itself has long acknowledged that decades of underinvestment in harbours and vessels has hits its resilience.

A breakdown on the MV Isle of Lewis, which shuttles from Barra to Oban, left it exposed this week. It quibbled with council criticisms, including a claim the service had been lost for a whole week.

CalMac’s director of operations, Robert Morrison said:‘We apologise for the technical breakdown that required us to withdraw the MV Isle of Lewis from service on Monday, unfortunately this was compounded by bad weather which prevented us from sailing to Barra for a four day period.

‘If we had the fleet resources available we would of course have laid on an alternative sailing on Monday, but this was just not possible before the bad weather set in. Due to annual dry dock schedule our fleet is fully deployed in the winter and we have limited flexibility until new vessels are delivered.

‘We realise that this has caused much inconvenience to the island but the weather caused widespread disruption across all transport operators, and this week nearly all of our 49 routes were affected.

‘We have invested heavily in measures to increase fleet resilience, such as our new mobile maintenance team, but unfortunately in this instance even with a quick repair turnaround to the Isle of Lewis, the weather conspired to restrict services to Barra this week.’

Extra sailings have been added. But the council’s chairman of Transportation, Uisdean Robertson, wants to take the issue up at Holyrood.

He said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will be writing to ministers and CalMac’s managing director demanding action to ensure our residents in Barra are never again left isolated like they have been this week.

“The challenges CalMac face from an ageing fleet and winter weather are well understood by the Comhairle.

“The loss of any ferry service has a serious impact on an island but there are other islands with multiple services to the mainland each day and some even have more than one ferry route to the mainland so a removal of a vessel would undeniably have a less severe impact.

“Instead CalMac have chosen inaction and no service at all on their longest and most exposed route to Barra while service is maintained elsewhere.

“A week of no ferry service is simply unacceptable in this day and age and it is intolerable that a company entrusted to provide a lifeline service would allow this to happen when alternatives to this are available by redeploying vessels from other routes.

“CalMac must have a published plan that sets out how they will respond to vessel breakdown. There should be a maximum period of time that any island is left without service to avoid the situation of ever being left with no lifeline service for a week.”

Council leader Roddie Mackay highlighted problems at employer Barra Atlantic. He said: “It is no exaggeration to say that ongoing failures in the ferry service undermine the business. Their need to get goods to market is time critical and it is simply unacceptable to be faced with an unreliable service.”.