Transport minister Jenny Gilruth has indicated that CalMac winter timetables may start to be published by the end of this week - five months late.

The timetables are normally published in April, but the transport minister said there had been a hold up because of arrangements over the closure of Uig harbour on Skye to allow for upgrades this winter - which sparked a row over island services disruption.

Without the timerables, ferry users cannot book ferry trips to islands off the west coast beyond October 23, when the winter timetable is due to come into effect.

Earlier this month it was announced that instead of 24-week closure this autumn, work to upgrade the pier will be cut to 14 weeks and split over two periods, from January 16 to March 13, next year and October 30 to December 11.

Ms Gilruth has admitted that it has been a "challenging time" after it emerged that she had intervened over concerns over 'cuts' to winter timetables that have been put to users groups in draft form.

Minister admits it has been a

CalMac has been asked to rethink timetables for services to Mull and Iona, after the local ferry committee said it received “strong” feedback from members of the public to the "seriously flawed" draft timetables, which it saw as a cut to services.

It means that sometimes the busy west coast island route goes from a two vessel service to one which the committee said was "completely inadequate both in terms of capacity and connectivity".

Scottish Conservative Donald Cameron, the Highlands and Islands MSP, told Parliament: "The minister will be aware of ongoing reports concerning the chaos and confusion surrounding the draft winter timetables for routes serving Mull, with that route in some instances being reduced from a two vessel service to a one vessel service, which the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee described as being completely inadequate.

Minister admits it has been a

"Now I note today that the minister has asked CalMac to rethink its proposed timetable for this route. But can she clarify when this will happen so that residents and communities on Mull receive urgent clarity?"

Ms Gilruth said: "I'm pleased that we've been able to get to a better place in terms of the Uig outage which has now been split in half and the time for which the port will be closed substantially reduced.

"In relation to the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, I met with the committee yesterday along with their constituency MSP Jenni Minto to discuss this very issue. And CalMac are in negotiation with the committee subject on that this week. "

She added: "I hope to have clarification on the detail of that timetable later this week this week to share with the community. I recognise it has been a challenging time.

"I think within government there is a need for a robust cross government approach to (ferry) resilience, which is why I confirmed my intention to re-establish and refresh the Islands' Transport Forum, which will focus on ferries provision and also on islands' resilience."

Concerns from the Mull and Iona ferry committee partly surrounds MV Loch Frisa, a second hand ferry brought in to improve services, and which for seven weeks will operate on her own, while there will be two and a half weeks when MV Isle of Mull will be the only vessel available.

Additionally, the committee also took issue with a lack of enough notice, calling it “completely unacceptable”. They said that the draft timetables were presented seven weeks before they were due to be introduced.

Loch Frisa, which will provide one leg of the single-vessel schedule, was described as “incapable” of providing the service required due to its size and speed.

In a letter to CalMac, MIFC’s chair Joe Reade said that the ferry’s lack of capacity and speed would “hugely compromise” transport connections with the Isle of Iona, leaving day trips to Oban for its residents “all but useless”.

He said that MV Loch Frisa, which was bought second hand from Norled, the Norwegian shipping company for £9m as a replacement for the 18-year-old MV Coruisk, is "completely unsuited" to the route and was a "ridiculous purchase" saying she is "too small, too slow and does not provide enough capacity while public transport connections have been decimated.

The seven-year-old Loch Frisa carries 195 passengers and 34 cars. That was seen as downgrade on MV Coruisk which it replaces - which can carry 30% more passengers, 17% more cars and at a 14 knot top speed was four knots faster.

It is also more than half the size of an Indonesia-built vessel campaigners wanted but could not get after a deal fell through over a row between over who was paying for the modifications.

Mr Reade said: "Rather than one easily understood and regular winter timetable, we now have three operating at different times of the winter."

Mr Reade wrote: “Lifeline transport connections with Iona are hugely compromised, including a reduction in the useable time in Oban from nearly six hours to less than three.

“This makes a day trip to Oban all but useless for Iona and South Mull residents, hugely increasing the likelihood that a hospital or dentist appointment will require an overnight stay; making shopping trips risky and rushed and family or business visits pointlessly short.”

CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond indicated to one user last week that it would communicate the ferry timetable roll out plan early this week.