A CALL has been made to recall the Scottish Parliament for an emergency statement over the state of Scotland's ferries - as a safety issue has caused major disruption to lifeline services.

Ferry operator CalMac has been forced to move a key ferry from one of Scotland's busiest crossings from today to help provide services to two Outer Hebrides links hit be the sidelining of MV Hebrides.

One of CalMac's oldest ferries, MV Hebrides is expected be out of action till at least Sunday at the earliest.

All services had been cancelled on two routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris since Tuesday.

The 21-year-old vessel was withdrawn due to another issue with its CO2 firefighting system.

The ferry operator 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.

The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator had said in an emergency timetable plan brought in on Tuesday that all options for a relief vessel had been explored and said that vessels across the rest of the CalMac network will remain on their timetabled routes for the current time.

That came after there was an outcry when MV Hebridean Isles was sent from its normal Islay route to assist when the safety issues surfaced last week.

Now CalMac has decided to reshuffle its pack again by moving MV Isle of Mull from the busy Oban to Craignure on Mull route to cover for the loss of MV Hebrides from today.

Now Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie has called for the Scottish Parliament to be recalled for an emergency statement on ferries after yet more service cancellations on Western Isles routes.


He said: "Everyone knows the fleet is outdated and prone to breakdowns, but nothing seems to be being done about it.

"If half the transport links to the First Minister's constituency were removed overnight her constituents would be beating down her door and I'm sure a solution would be found in short order.

"Because this affects island communities, far from the central belt, residents are just expected to grin and bear it, even as their businesses suffer and their family members struggle to get to medical appointments.

"I believe that this is serious enough that the parliament should be recalled and the minister made to explain why years of underinvestment in our ferry network has been allowed to lead us here.

"Islanders have been clear that if these ferry failures continue the Scottish Government are risking an 'island clearances' as residents will simply find the situation intolerable."

The smaller MV Coruisk has been repositioned to take on some of the Mull demand.

But the disruption has brought about a series of cancellations on other lifeline routes, including Mallaig to Lochboisdale on South Uist and Mallaig to Armadale on Skye.

The Mull & Iona Ferry Committee has lodged a complaint to CalMac and copied to the transport minister Jenny Gilruth about the "huge capacity reduction" in both cars and foot passengers that has emerged "in the busiest week of the year".

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, today said CalMac had "sought to find a solution to support Uists... with least worse impacts elsewhere". But he apologies that Mull, Iona and Skye are now impacted.

He added: "We are working intensively on the repair and to bring service back."

Meanwhile Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Alasdair Allan the SNP MSP for the same area met with the transport minister Jenny Gilruth, CalMac and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the taxpayer-funded firm which owns and procures ferries and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar "to raise concerns about the MV Hebrides disruption".

Mr MacNeil MP said: “Clearly, at a time when the islands are making money in the summer with the ferries, this is a terrible time for them to breakdown. 

“We can all feel the frustration of the effects of ferries breaking down.

“I am encouraged that the Scottish Government are trying to source an extra vessel that can be on standby when a vessel breaks down which many of us have urged them to do.”

On Thursday, Mr Drummond said after deciding on the latest temporary timetable move: “We have made every effort to ensure customers booked on MV Hebrides have been able to travel this week where possible. However, we have reached the point today where we must make further changes.

“In order to reinstate sailings on the Skye Triangle routes from Friday, it has become necessary to redeploy some vessels from other routes to help support services in the Western Isles area. MV Lord of the Isles, which was providing additional sailings to the Western Isles, is now out of crew hours, so we now need an alternative solution.

“Therefore, MV Isle of Mull will move from Mull to Lochmaddy while her sailings between Oban and Craignure will be taken over by MV Coruisk. To try and minimise the impact of these changes, we will maximise the number of sailings that MV Loch Frisa can undertake on this route as far as possible. We will also provide a shuttle service on the alternative route to Mull via Lochaline-Fishnish which will boost the number of sailings possible on this route within the limits of crew hours.

“This is a temporary measure until repairs have been completed to MV Hebrides. Work is expected to be completed on Saturday evening and we anticipate she will be back in service on Sunday. While we aim to move all booked traffic, urgent deliveries and medical appointments will be prioritised.

“Moving vessels around is not ideal but without any spare tonnage to use during disruption, it is often the only available option we have to continue to operate lifeline services. I can assure customers that we have looked at all possible alternative options before coming to this decision.

“I am deeply sorry about the effect that the loss of MV Hebrides has had on our passengers and communities.”

MV Hebrides 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.

The vessel, 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.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said:  "Ministers have requested a thorough investigation into this fault - and why it occurred so quickly after the previous outage on the same vessel. CalMac have confirmed that, further to the necessary repairs on the MV Hebrides, she will return to service on Sunday.  

“The transport minister on Thursday convened a resilience meeting with the local MP, MSP, councillor and other stakeholders including the Ferries Communities Board and Harris Development Ltd to discuss the issues relating to the outage.

“CalMac, as the operator, provided an update on the vessel movements movements to cover for the period of the outage. CalMac have added a number of additional sailings to help with essential supplies to the islands and we continue to work with CalMac and CMAL on potential resilience options for the fleet.

"This includes seeking potential second hand tonnage to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes. The previous charters of MV Arrow and recent purchase of the MV Utne (now MV Loch Frisa) are evidence of this ongoing commitment to improve and support the existing fleet in this way.

“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.”