CAMPAIGNERS on Arran have warned the island’s burgeoning tourism industry is in danger of “suffering death by a thousand cuts” as concern mounts over the unreliability of the ferry service.

The Arran Ferry Action Group, whose 1,200 supporters represent more than half of households on the island, said frequent breakdowns of ageing vessels have resulted in an “unprecedented number of cancelled and delayed sailings” on the busy Ardrossan to Brodick route.

The Clyde and Hebrides service is currently served by the MV Isle of Arran, built in 1984, and the MV Caledonian Isles, which was built nine years later. It has been in line to receive the first of two new dual-fuel ferries under construction at the now-nationalised Ferguson yard in Inverclyde.

READ MORE: Arran businesses vent fury over ‘flawed’ harbour move

However, as widely reported, the project is running over time and budget. It was suggested this week by project “turnaround director” Tim Hair that the cost of scrapping the partially-built ships and starting over again may not be “dramatically different” to the estimated £110 million bill to complete them.

The comments from the Arran Ferry Action Group are made in its submission to an enquiry being held by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee into the construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland. The committee began taking oral evidence on Wednesday, when it was heard that the Ferguson ferries were “significantly less than half-built”.

The Arran group states: “On the Arran route, frequent breakdowns have plagued the older vessels still in service, resulting in an unprecedented number of cancelled and delayed sailings.

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“Tourism is a significant contributor to Arran’s economy and much effort has been expanded over recent years to promote the island as a holiday destination. The unreliability of the service has resulted in many visitors having their travel plans disrupted with some saying they will not return. Others have cancelled visits altogether.

“There is a danger of this sector suffering death by a thousand cuts as each period of disruption drives away more trade. However, it is the islanders themselves upon which the day to day burden is placed. Family events cancelled, business meetings delayed and those journeying to hospital left not knowing whether they will be able to attend their appointment or return home afterwards.

“This cannot continue and to this end we seek two modern, manoeuvrable, fuel efficient and cost-effective vessels to service the Arran run.”

The group’s evidence to the enquiry comes after islanders raised concerns islands last summer over the £31 million project to reposition Brodick harbour by 90 degrees. It is claimed the new position has led to a spike in cancellations because it has made the high-sided vessels which serve the port more susceptible to easterly winds.

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Official figures from CalMac show a total of 308 sailings were cancelled out of 4,969 scheduled in 2019. This compares with 371 cancellations out of 4,822 in 2018.

As well as voicing fears for tourism, the Arran Ferry Action Group called on Transport Scotland, Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) and ferry operator CalMac to look for “new and innovative solutions” to ferry procurement in light of the Ferguson debacle.

It suggests the Scottish Governments should appoint a “contract management organisation, either in-house with CMAL, or externally, to oversee these projects.”

The group adds: “They should be left to do their job and government should not engage with or subsidise the contractors behind the backs of their appointed representatives.”

The group calls for an examination into modern vessel design to identify which types of ferry would be most suitable and cost effective for Scotland, adding that once a favoured design is agreed they should be “ordered in numbers from a yard with a proven track record of delivery.”

It said: “The key challenge is to overcome the mindset of TS, CMAL and CalMac who persist in specifying traditional, unique, costly, overly large, lumbering polluting vessels.”

The group adds: “It is also essential not to allow politics to overrule sound commercial decision making no matter how laudable the intention. Therefore, the need to build new ships should not be confused with the wish to,preserve ship building jobs on the Clyde or, as in the case of Ardrossan harbour, the regeneration of a small town. Subsuming one aim to another or conflating two, as in the case of Ferguson Marine, will only result in the failure of both.”