FERRY users have warned of a "connectivity crisis" as travellers were stranded on Arran due to service cancellations before a new wave of sailing curbs due to Covid issues.

CalMac will from today (Monday) suspend services on one island route and cut sailings on nine others after a surge in the number of self-isolating because of Covid.

But on Arran, users spoke of "utter chaos" before the new curbs kicked in as people were stranded due to a host of ferry cancellations yesterday (Sunday) on one of Scotland's busiest routes.

It came after CalMac withdrew MV Caledonian Isles from service after a crew member tested positive for Covid on Sunday morning which required the vessel to be cleaned before carrying customers.  The ferry operator said there were also "weather disruptions".

Changes across the ferry network were announced on Hogmanay after CalMac said that as of December 31, 93 crew and 18 port staff were unavailable because of Covid.

The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator said that that equates to a Covid absence rate of 9% amongst vessel crews and 5% amongst port staff and is in addition to a non-coronavirus absence rate of 6%.


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The “essential services” timetable was to operate until at least January 23 with the route between Mallaig, Invernesshire and Lochboisdale on South Uist suspended.

Cuts to nine other of CalMac’s 26 routes include introducing a single vessel rather than the usual double ferry timetable for one of Scotland's busiest routes - to and from Brodick on Arran.

That comes as the principal vessel, the 29-year-old MV Caledonian Isles is due to be away on a refit between January 5 to at least January 21.

While what is one of CalMac's largest vessels carrying 1000 passengers and 110 cars is out of action, it was expected to be replaced by the smaller MV Hebridean Isles, another of the 'old girls' of the CalMac fleet, which is only capable of carrying around half of that.

CalMac said all its services were also subject to “change, cancellation or interruption at very short notice” and sailings might be cancelled “right up to the point of departure”.

Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group said it was a "drastic reduction" and that combined with continues issues with berthing in Ardrossan resulting in the regular cancellation of the key 7am service they are now facing a "serious crisis of connectivity".

But he raised concerns that nobody was able to reach the mainland this year due to the Covid problems with a 93% service cancellation rate.

READ MORE: Lifeline CalMac ferry MV Caledonian Isles makes a return after being sidelined for four days

The cancellations came as a potential alternative ferry route from Tarbert to Lochranza was unavailable.

"It's utter chaos," he said. "The number of folk abandoned everywhere is huge. There are people with urgent pressing need to travel who are absolutely stuck," he said.

"There are cancellations running into tomorrow (Monday) already. Currently there is no available car booking until Tuesday night!

"It is absolute meltdown."

One ferry user said CalMac had given them an "extended holiday" and were forced to 'wild camp' as her family were "stuck on Arran until Tuesday".

"Luckily we’re in a van but there are no spaces," she said "We’re just parked up!

"Just want to get home now. Never even considered the ferries being cancelled."

Mr Bourne said the island had narrowly avoided running out of petrol and gas a few weeks ago.

He said said that while the service from near Tarbert to Lochranza on Arran at the north end of the island has been increased from one to three return sailings to add some additional capacity and allow essential supplies as petrol and gas to continue, there was still concern, he said.


By road, that would mean those travelling from Ardrossan going on a 120 mile detour to get to and from Tarbert - a journey that would take around three hours. The Ardrossan to Brodick ferry crossing usually takes just 35 minutes.

Mr Bourne said it would also involve going through one of Scotland's most infamous roads, the landslip-prone A83 at the Rest and be Thankful which he said was "hardly a great prospect".

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A spokesperson for CalMac said: “We apologise for the impact that Covid is having on our services, but we are sure customers understand that all public transport providers are under pressure from rapidly rising covid absences and CalMac is no different.

“Covid related absences amongst crew have increased by 166% in the space of one week and by a third amongst port staff. Therefore the decision to introduce an essential services timetable was a necessary one to preserve a core service to all parts of the network.

“Unfortunately as a result of Covid there is a reduction on the Ardrossan-Brodick route, however we are increasing return sailings from one per day to three per day on the alternative Tarbert-Lochranza route."

The spokesman added: “Weather permitting, the 3 January will see MV Caledonian Isles return to service on the Ardrossan-Brodick route and MV Loch Tarbert will operate three return sailings to Lochranza from Tarbert. In addition we will be adding MV Hebridean Isles to the service as soon as we are able to do so.

“In spite of our very best efforts to maintain services, the unprecedented speed of the spread of covid cases at this time is resulting in the need to cancel services at very short notice. Due to the impact of covid we would repeat our warning to customers that all services, irrespective of timetable or service change, are subject to change, cancellation or interruption at very short notice. We would ask all customers to check service status before commencing their journey to ports, but sailings may be cancelled right up to the point of departure.”