MORE than half of Scotland's lifeline ferry network is operating outwith its working life expectancy leading to new calls for a shake-up of the crisis-hit services.

The Herald can reveal that a new analysis shows 16 of the state-owned ferry operator's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland is now over 25 years old.

It comes as the network was hit with further disruption through new ferry breakdowns over the last month - and a fifth delay to the completion of repairs to CalMac's biggest ferry MV Loch Seaforth. It now not expected back in service till this May 28 at the earliest, having been pulled in for engine work a month ago.

The analysis comes as CalMac confirmed that with Transport Scotland they are now seeking an emergency ferry to help cope with issues in the network.

Ferry users, campaigners, experts and even the owner of Pentland Ferries have questioned why there has been been resistance to making use of catamarans to try and resolve the crisis.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is now twenty years past its working life expectancy at 45-year-old and is still a regular summer ferry on Argyll and Bute's Tarbert to Portavadie route.

Second oldest is 37-year-old Isle of Arran which usually serves as the second Arran ferry in the summer and despite only being able to take four lorries, had to be called on last month to carry out the overnight freight run on the Stornoway-Ullapool route after MV Loch Seaforth suffered an engine failure.

But it had to be taken off freight service duties last week because of stabiliser problems, resulting in a shutdown on freight services for over three days. It has now had to be moved to the "more sheltered" Islay run.

The others that are over 25 years old are Hebridean Isles (36) Loch Linnhe (35), Loch Riddon (35) Loch Striven (35), Loch Ranza (34), Isle of Mull (33), Lord of the Isles (32), Loch Dunvegan (30), Loch Fyne (30) Loch Buie (29), Loch Tarbert (29) Caledonian Isles (28), Isle of Lewis (26) and Loch Bhrusda, which was completed in May, 1996.

READ MORE: CalMac confirms fifth delay over repair of its biggest vessel as latest chaos emerges

A separate analysis using official data shows that from 1993, before devolution, to 2007, 12 ferries with a combined tonnage of 33,350 were launched - a replacement rate of one in 1.16 years.

In the following 14 years, while the SNP was in power, only five ferries with combined tonnage of 16,188 were built - a replacement rate of one every 2.8 years.

If the current replacement rate is maintained, the new Scottish Government would not be able to replace the 16 ferries that are past their working life right now for another 45 years.

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Inverness-based ferry expert and consultant Roy Pedersen, who is a member of the Scottish Government's Ferry Industry Advisory Group has told CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond that catamarans must be considered "in the interest of better addressing future vessel acquisition and improving the poor productivity of the current CalMac operation".

Mr Pedersen, who was commissioned by the part-Scottish Government funded and Transport Scotland create Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) to examine the ferry service said: "The ferry crisis of breakdowns, unreliable service and lack of capacity goes from bad to worse.

"The CalMac situation really is pretty scandalous and has been building up for decades."

He raised concerns that SNP MSP for Cunninghame North Kenneth Gibson reported that following a meeting with Mr Drummond, the CalMac MD had said that "catamarans are not suitable for the Clyde as they are less stable and passengers more prone to seasickness".

Mr Pedersen has told Mr Mr Drummond in a letter that catamarans were more stable than a typical CalMac monohull vessel and that there was no evidence that there was a greater risk of seasickness He said: " I respectfully, but strongly suggest it is time to abandon the unjustified anti-catamaran prejudice."

Andrew Banks, head of Pentland Ferries has has admitted being mystified at how CalMac and Transport Scotland will not charter an emergency catamaran to resolve their breakdown crisis.

Andrew Banks, head of Pentland Ferries has revealed that both inquired about chartering his MV Pentalina catamaran on March 26 - nearly three weeks before the Loch Seaforth engine failure.

The Pentalina was being offered by ship brokers in the summer of last year

Campaigners have been appealing with both to charter the vessel as an emergency back-up before because of a series of breakdowns to CalMac's ageing fleet.

"I have no idea why Calmac has not pursued charter of the MV Pentalina," he said. "I have no idea why there does not seem to have been pressure internally from Transport Scotland and ministers to rectify the appalling situation communities and businesses on west coast routes are continuing to experience.

"I understand that there will be lots of factors at play in making decisions around appropriate relief for vessel breakdowns but I suspect that the situation with the MV Loch Seaforth will not be the last.

READ MORE: CalMac ferry network crisis as breakdowns cause three day island freight shutdown

"As we enter a period of economic recovery it is absolutely vital for these small communities to have consistent reliable access in place and, as both an islander and a service provider to island communities, I understand the frustrations felt locally. "

Martin Reid, the Road Haulage Association's director of Scotland and Northern Ireland said the situation surrounding ferries and the services to the islands was "disgraceful".

He said it had been known for years that the ferry stock was getting too old and was in need of investment.

"It is not acceptable to the many companies who move goods that they are losing money, losing reputation and potentially losing market share through the slipping standards of others," he said.The issues come off the back of the country's ferry building fiasco with two lifeline vessels being built at nationalised Ferguson Marine, owner of the last civilian Clyde shipyard. They were due to be in service in early 2018, are now up to nearly five years behind schedule and their is now over double the original £97m contract.

The first of the ferries the MV Glen Sannox is now destined for the Arran to Ardrossan route - Scotland's busiest ferry crossing - between April 2022 and June, 2022.

Ferguson Marine, led by tycoon Jim McColl went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - over the construction of the ferries under the fixed price contract.

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The Scottish Government then pushed ahead to take full control of of the shipyard company as it went under with blame attached to soaring costs of the ferry contract.

Gavin Fulton, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group said: "There is no doubt that the lack of investment is the reason that we have aged and unreliable ships now and that that is a big part of the problem.

"There is also no doubt, without making a political point, that the SNP government in power for the last fourteen years, wholly own this problem.

"The need to build new ships should not have been conflated with the wish to preserve ship building jobs on the Clyde. The result as has been amply demonstrated as 'catastrophic failure'.

"The ultimate irony of this situation is that for the £200m plus squandered on the two white elephants at Ferguson Marine they could have built about ten smaller, simpler, standardised ships which would, by now, be on the waters of the west coast."

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee said it was seeking a £12m catamaran to serve their communities but has met with resistance.

"Rather than grasping the opportunity with both hands, it seems instead to have been kicked into the long grass for opaque reasons.

"A catamaran of the right size could provide all the same benefits but at much lower cost and without the port upgrades needed – but such commercially-minded decisions seem to escape CMAL and government, who seem to repeat the same mistake over and over again. Plenty of money is being spent – but it is being spent very badly."

Transport Scotland said the the three to four week mobilisation period meant that the Pentalina was unable to provide short term cover.

Mr Drummond confirmed said it was currently investigating with Transport Scotland the option of leasing the Pentalina on a long-term hire to provide additional resilience across the network.

He said: “We would welcome the addition of any vessel that is deemed to be both safe and suitable for the routes we operate."

A CMAL spokesman said: “Vessel choice is informed by a wide range of factors: current passenger and freight demand as well as future projections, comfort, safety, reliability, sustainability, efficiency and cost - to name a few. An important factor in all vessel choice for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service (CHFS) is compatibility with specific routes, as well as flexibility to meet vessel redeployment needs across the network.

“When considering replacement vessels for the network, no vessel type is off the table. However, any future vessels being built must be safe, reliable, provide a resilient service and address climate challenges. All of these factors have been taken into account during our recent procurement of the replacement vessels for Islay.

“Vessel dry docking, repair, maintenance and crewing are all the responsibility of the service operator (CalMac), as the vessels are bareboat chartered to them. The redeployment of ferries across the network also lies with them as the operator.

“CMAL is very clear that vessel replacement is required and that it should be accelerated – this is fully explained in our recently published corporate plan. This has been recognised by Scottish Government and has been backed by their 5 year infrastructure plan, which commits £586m in capital from 21/22 to 25/26 regarding both vessels and port assets.”