MINISTERS have been urged to act to bring to an end 'ferry chaos' as fears have heightened over shortages of vital supplies through a raft of service restrictions which has seen one Scottish island almost run out of fuel.

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that issues with sailing cancellations and fuel storage issues meant last Wednesday there was only 500 litres of fuel left on Arran for visitors and residents - only enough to fill nine family cars.

It is understood that the fuel issues on the island were such that even before last week's problems an 'emergency' tanker had to be transported by ferry to Brodick a route it would not normally take under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

Gas and fuel is normally sent once a week through Lochranza at the north of the island as under the code they have to be delivered on an open rather than an enclosed deck ferry so that any leaks can be drained over board.

Arran's supplies were replenished last Wednesday but filling station owners have warned that things can only get worse.

There are now concerns about Scots islanders being isolated and losing vital supplies as they face a series of sailing curbs to deal with issues with weather, ferries breaking down, Covid-19 and upgrading harbour infrastructure.

Islanders have lodged protests with ministers over the effect on South Uist as the state-controlled ferry operator CalMac suspended their sailings from Lochboisdale to Oban last Monday till January 23 after a surge in the number of staff self-isolating because of Covid.

READ MORE: Row over ferry 'port of refuge' unavailable as high winds ravage CalMac services

It forms part of an “essential services” ferry timetable which has seen cuts to ten of CalMac’s 26 routes including introducing a single vessel rather than the usual double ferry timetable for the Brodick service - one of Scotland's busiest routes.

South Uist residents say it has added six hours to the travelling time of a return trip to Glasgow as ferry users have to divert to get the ferry from North Uist and travel to Skye.

Ministers and Calmac have also been bombarded with demands to halt plans to cancel an entire ferry service for five months, to renew a Skye harbour.


The redevelopment of a pier and related facilities by Highland Council in Uig on Skye's north coast will mean the routes from there to Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris will be shut to all ferry services in the autumn of next year.

Stòras Uibhist a community owned company that manages the 93,000 acre South Uist Estate comprising the Outer Hebridean islands of Eriskay, South Uist and parts of Benbecula has lodged strong protests about state of the service and called for a dedicated freight sailing from either Lochmaddy to Ullapool and/or Lochboisdale in South Uist to Oban.

"We have told CalMac that we are particularly concerned that the impact of inevitable poor weather and cancellations of the Lochboisdale boat once we reach late autumn / winter 2022.

"This is one of the most cancelled routes already. We face the horrendous prospective of (at best) one ferry a day from Lochmaddy to Ullapool servicing a population stretching from Berneray in the north to Eriskay in the south. We have told CalMac that is untenable."

The company has also written to ministers asking why the Lochboisdale service is the only one across the entire CalMac fleet to be suspended at the moment.

READ MORE: Scots ministers 'acted unlawfully' over lifeline ferries to be built abroad

"This is clear evidence that our service is treated as dispensable and demonstrates a complete lack of care and respect to our community," they said.

Calum Macmillan, a councillor from South Uist on Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar said there was concerns for supplies as islanders and suppliers face massive detours due to the temporary shutdown. "We have social isolation and now it is island isolation," he said. "You just don't go to the shops in Glasgow and it is difficult enough go get there."

An eight-and-a-half hour trip to Glasgow has now become a near 12 hour trip, he said.

"There are concerns about supplies, of course," he said. "We just have got to adapt."

On Arran, George Lammie, who owns two of the major filling stations on the island said supplies had been hit by unreliable ferries at a time when a major storage depot capable of holding thousands of litres of fuel had shut down since September, last year.

He said that with Arran facing a host of weather-related cancellations in the past week it was "fortunate" that a tanker was able to deliver direct to the five filling stations on Wednesday when there was just 500 litres of fuel left.

"And this is only going to get worse," he said. "CalMac ferries are not able to deal with this.

"It is not just fuel that is the problem, we were struggling to get gas to the island too."

Last week the overhaul of one ferry was delayed till Friday as concerns over supplies surfaced on Arran which has been hit with a series of service cancellations. Friday saw another raft of sailings go after another Covid outbreak left the island with no dedicated service for much of the day.


Five food lorries, stranded for up to two days managed to leave Arran on Wednesday as other visitors spoke of being unable to leave after services on the island came to a standstill last weekend.

Questions about the resilience of CalMac's ageing ferry fleet were heightened after curbs to services due to high winds led to 11 lifeline CalMac ferry routes suffering suspensions on Thursday.

Arran ferry users questioned why the Gourock 'port of refuge' was not used as their services were suspended, despite £2.5m being spent on it to cut cancellations in bad weather.

Martin Reid, director of Scotland and Northern Ireland of the Road Haulage Association said cuts in in services hit supplies to and from the islands but also disrupt hard fought for supply chains.

"It is imperative that the Scottish Government bring in processes that ensure that services are maintained and that supply chains are sustained. All services have to be maintained at all times for companies to survive and thrive as they already operating in incredibly disruptive trading conditions," he said. Ferry user groups have combined to call for urgent action to prevent islands from being cut off.

Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group said: "As islanders, we are used to occasional weather-related disruption to our ‘lifeline’ ferry services, particularly in winter. Indeed, this is a part of island life. However, when you combine that with a fleet where the majority of its vessels are well past their original design lives, failing infrastructure at the ports, and a global pandemic, we now have a ‘perfect storm’ of disruption.

"Islanders are unable to reliably travel to work, to make urgent medical appointments, or simply to visit friends or relatives. Supplies and trades cannot get to the island in a timely manner, staff simply cannot commute, and the many wonderful island producers cannot get their goods reliably to market. Maintaining key supplies of fuel and food has become a complex daily logistical challenge. The significant effects impact every element of life on the island.

"Barely a conversation is held where the ferry does not feature heavily. There are many perfectly viable businesses that may not make it out of this winter and many residents are reconsidering their futures on the island.

"The CalMac staff on the ground and on the vessels are doing all they can to make the broken system work, but they cannot work miracles. The entire network is hanging by a thread, literally operating on a sailing-by-sailing basis on all routes from Lewis in the North, Cumbrae in the East, Arran in the South, and Barra in the West."

Joe Reade, co-founder and chief executive of The Island Bakery on Mull, and chairman of the local ferry committee added: “The CalMac timetable is being changed on a daily basis, as vessels not struck by Covid get shuttled between routes, or others come to a standstill due to breakdowns. On top of that, many of our major vessels now seem to be unable to operate in winds above 25 knots.

"Weather-related cancellations have quadrupled over recent years. The pulse of island life has always been set by the ferry service – but what used to be a dependable, regular service is now unpredictable, ever-changing and unreliable. It just makes every aspect of island life more difficult – supplies and deliveries don’t arrive when expected or needed and travel plans have to be changed at the last minute. Things could and should be so much better.”

There is concern that plans to revamp the Uig harbour on Skye will mean that from September, the people of Harris will have no ferry at all linking it to the mainland for the first time in 58 years.


Kenny MacLeod, chairman of the community group Harris Development Ltd has told CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond said: "This is nothing short of scandalous. We are not talking of a short term three to four week period due to an emergency situation but with almost 12 months warning of a minimum five month loss which includes at least six weeks of our busy summer season. Neither CalMac nor the Scottish Government have seen fit to provide us with a vessel to meet our needs.

He said that urgent steps are needed to provide a dedicated ferry service from Tarbert for the duration of the closure of Uig.

"By not doing so you are heaping further misery on our communities as we try to keep our heads above water in the face of a reduction in opportunities from the capacity restrictions over the summer season," the chairman of the Harris forum said.

The state-controlled ferry operator has already been strongly criticised for resisting reinstating full lifeline ferry services to timetable on the Western Isles next summer at a cost of £816,000.

CalMac is looking at cutting the capacity of the 21-year-old MV Hebrides, which normally carries 612 passengers and 90 cars, by 20%.

"We would ask that the impositions you have made are immediately reversed and full capacity be made available on all sailings on this route for next summer and indeed for the duration of the contract. Failure to do so will be seen by the people of the Western Isles and especially Harris and Uist as total disregard for them and the viability of their communities in the eyes of CalMac, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government," said Mr MacLeod.

"It is clear that those who can made this decision have no thought for supporting our communities in their recovery from the damaging effects of Covid but instead want to preserve the profit margins of a state funded organisation.

"Everything in the proposals and final imposition by CalMac show that the future and wellbeing of the people of Harris and Uist do not feature in the eyes of either the Scottish Government or the provider of our lifeline ferry service.

"This is tearing up the much vaunted Islands Act that was meant to protect the vulnerable and fragile island communities from Government policy and decisions."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise the fragility of some supply chains serving island communities and understand the anxiety that disruption to ferry services can cause. However, no welfare issues or supply issues as a consequence of recent service disruption have been reported to CalMac, nor through local resilience partnerships.

“We will continue to monitor the position and CalMac will seek to prioritise the delivery of essential goods in response. Scottish Ministers are doing everything that they can to support CalMac to maximise available capacity across the network.

“Every effort is made to avoid breakdowns, but it is impossible to completely remove the risk of this happening in technically complex vessels. During times of disruption, we always seek to work with CalMac to deliver additional sailings wherever possible.

“We acknowledge the CMAL fleet is aging and as such we are delivering new tonnage to support our communities by working with CMAL, CalMac, MSPs, community representatives and others to develop investment programmes - at least £580 million over the next five years - for major vessels and small vessels.”

A spokesman for CalMac said: “Transport operators across the country, including CalMac, are facing levels of pressure on their services never before experienced.

“In the face of a global pandemic resulting in staff absence rates rapidly heading towards 20%, and in the middle of a period of winter storms and high winds, we have put in place an essential services timetable to try and ensure that all the communities we serve are provided with a core service.

“At this time of extreme strain on our services and staff our focus is on ensuring that the supply of essential goods and services to island communities is maintained.”