LIFELINE ferry services have been disrupted for the third time in a month due to safety issues with one of CalMac's oldest vessels.

The service's 21-year-old MV Hebrides, has been withdrawn due to another issue with its CO2 firefighting system.

The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator had said that the issues were expected to have been resolved last  Friday and services were reported to be operating normally on that day.

Issues with the firefighting system first surfaced in mid-June.

Now all Tuesday's sailings between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris have been cancelled.

Sailings on the two routes have also been cancelled for tomorrow.

CalMac has issued an apology to customers and has advised them to travel via Lochboisdale-Mallaig or Stornoway-Ullapool.

Users have been told a full investigation is to be carried out to find out why the failure has happened so soon after the last week's events. 

Finlay MacRae, head of operations at CalMac, said: "Very regrettably, MV Hebrides has had a reoccurrence of the issue with her CO2 firefighting system... and we are sorry to announce that sailings today have had to be cancelled as a result of this. We are currently working on relocating the vessel to a mainland location to allow the necessary specialist teams to effect repairs. We will confirm estimated repair times shortly.

"We recognise that this situation is very difficult and inconvenient for our customers, especially so soon after the most recent disruption, and we sincerely apologise to everyone affected and will do our best to find alternative options where these exist. While we know this process is time consuming and frustrating for customers, our staff are doing their very best to help and should not be subjected to aggression or violent behaviour".

The ferry operator has warned that space on these sailings was "extremely limited" because it was a time of peak summer demand.

CalMac said they were currently exploring contingency plans.

An additional sailing to and from Armadale on Skye and Lochboisdale on South Uist was being organised for tomorrow.

CalMac warned freight will be prioritised and any remaining space will be allocated on a first come, first served basis on the departure from Lochboisdale. S

The ferry operator said it was in the process of contacting all customers who will be affected by this disruption.

"Disrupting a sailing is a decision we do not take lightly because we know it will inconvenience our customers and the communities we serve. We apologise for any inconvenience caused," said the ferry operator.

Hebrides only returned to service on Friday after repairs in Ullapool to the firefighting system.

The safety issue surfaced a week ago led to  the third oldest vessel in the fleet, 37-year-old MV Hebridean Isles temporarily moved from Islay on Wednesday to help support the lifeline services.

HeraldScotland:

This has had a knock on effect with cancellations experienced on other services including links to Islay which went down to a one-ship service due to a lack of replacement vessels.

The vessel was first removed from service in mid-June due to a problem with its fire-fighting system.   Then, a temporary repair which satisfied the ‘appropriate authorities’ gained the ship a short term dispensation to sail.

CalMac said MV Hebrides was again headed for a mainland yard for repairs and it would confirm an estimated timeframe for the work later.

MV Hebrides, which can carry 612 passengers and 90 cars, was due to be replaced by a new ship, one of two dual-fuel vessels at the centre of a ferry-building fiasco that are languishing in Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow on the Clyde.

It means that Glen Sannox will now be five years late and will not see service till between March and May 2023 at the earliest, while Hull 802 is not due to set sail till between October and December 2023.

Mr MacRae added: "We recognise that this situation is very difficult and inconvenient for our customers, especially so soon after the most recent disruption, and we sincerely apologise to everyone affected and will do our best to find alternative options where these exist.

"All affected customers are being contacted and advised to travel via Lochboisdale-Mallaig or Stornoway - Ullapool, although space is extremely limited as we are at a peak demand period of the summer."

Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet Secretary for net zero, energy and transport, Liam Kerr said: “This is just the latest in a long line of ferry faults and breakdowns that has seen CalMac spend more than £200million on repairs to their fleet in the last 15 years.

“Not only is the nationalised ferry operator forking out a colossal amount of taxpayer money to keep their aging and increasingly unreliable ferries on the water, but every single cancellation and delay has a huge impact on the island communities who depend on these lifeline ferry links.

“More than a third of CalMac’s ships are working beyond their design life – yet the SNP have completely failed to deliver their promised ferry replacement programme and the existing fleet is stretched to breaking point.

“The SNP must urgently deliver the new ferries we desperately need or the breakdowns, delays and disruption for island residents will only get worse.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Ministers recognise that having confidence in ferry services can impact upon people’s decision on whether to live and work on the islands, and impacts upon the sustainability of the island communities themselves. These human impacts are at the heart of Scottish Ministers’ commitment to continued investment in ferry services across Scotland.

“During any disruptions CalMac will prioritise sailings to ensure delivery of essential supplies and export of island products, supporting island and remote economies.

“We continue to charge CalMac Ferries Ltd. and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. with seeking potential second hand tonnage to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes. The previous charters of the MV Arrow and recent purchase of the MV Loch Frisa are evidence of this ongoing commitment to improve and support the existing fleet in this way. We have also recently awarded the contract to build two new ferries for the Islay routes.

“The Scottish Government has invested around £2bn in our ferry services since 2007. We have long acknowledged the need to address delays in ferry infrastructure, which is why we have committed to investing a further £580 million in the Infrastructure Investment Plan.”