MORE than 1000 CalMac ferry sailings were cancelled last year because of mechanical problems with the boats, a 37 per cent annual rise, it has emerged.

The Scottish Greens, who obtained the figures, urged Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to order an urgent review of the state of the CalMac fleet.

Sourced through freedom of information, the data showed the vast majority of CalMac cancellations are due to bad weather .

But in 2018, mechanical breakdowns on board accounted for 780 of the 5,383 cancelled sailings.

In 2019, such problems accounted for 1,069 of 5,653 cancelled sailings.

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However, less than 1 per cent of sailings were cancelled because of mechanical issues.

Green Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie said the Scottish Government needed to review its vessel deployment and replacement plan.

He said: “CalMac is entrusted to deliver lifeline services to remote and island communities up and down the west coast, so it is particularly concerning that the number of cancellations as a result of technical breakdowns has greatly increased in the last year.

“Behind these cancellations are people unable to attend hospital appointments on the mainland, missed job interviews, small businesses unable to send and receive goods, and a loss of important tourism revenue.

“We know that the bulk of the fleet needs renewed.

“The average age of the CalMac fleet is 23 years, and the Scottish Government’s own ferry plan for 2013 – 2022 highlighted that the majority of the vessels needed to be replaced.

“This hasn’t happened and we’re left with the situation where we have an ageing fleet which requires longer periods of maintenance and repair.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Transport must urgently review the vessels deployment and replacement plan, ensuring community representatives and trade unions are at the heart of the procurement process, in order to deliver a fleet that communities served by the Clyde and Hebrides services deserve.”

CalMac Director of Operations, Robert Morrison said 1069 sailings cancelled for technical reasons out of 168,000 last year meant a reliability rate of 99.35%, which compared very well to other forms of transport.

He said: “To increase fleet resilience further we are investing more than £21m during this year’s dry dock maintenance programme, which includes a record £9m investment on vessel upgrades.

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‘More than 90 major projects will be carried including new engines, replacement pitch control systems, new bow thrusters, replacement ramps and new generators on various vessels.

“We have also introduced a new team to carry out in-service preventative maintenance to help avoid technical issues arising.’

‘We are doing all we can to maintain a fully operational fleet while awaiting new vessels.’

A Government spokesperson said: “Transport Scotland is working with CalMac and [parent firm] CMAL to develop investment programmes for major vessels and small vessels with the aim of increased standardisation, taking account of the many and varied routes which CalMac serves.

“The latest Vessel Replacement and Deployment Plan is in final drafting and the intention is to publish this Spring.

“While reliability currently stands at around 99.35%, we look forward to working with all interested parties to continue to deliver improvements, building on the substantial investment in routes, services, vessels, harbours and fares which have been made in these services in recent years and which have led to significant improvements in connectivity, capacity, affordability and passenger numbers.

“The successor to the Ferries Plan 2013-2022 is being developed following the recent publication of the National Transport Strategy and the National Islands Plan and in conjunction with the Strategic Transport Projects Review which will also consider all potential viable future options in connecting our islands.

“The Scottish Government continues to work with CalMac, communities and business interest to ensure lifeline ferry connections are maintained and enhanced.”