CalMac’s woes have “masked” a ferry crisis in Orkney, the islands’ MSP has warned.

Liam McArthur acknowledged that a threat to Clyde and Hebridean services had been grabbing headlines.

But the Liberal Democrat echoed concerns from Orkney Islands Council that it was struggling to keep its nine-strong fleet of boats at sea.

Mr McArthur said: “The problems across the network on the West Coast and all the headlines they have created have kind of masked the problems that are being faced by communities in Orkney.”

The Herald on Sunday yesterday revealed that council officials were drawing up emergency plans for a worse case scenario of two of its nine ferries being out of action. Councillors have even warned they may have to consider evacuation proposals for outer isles.

READ MORE: Orkney ferries: Crisis facing Scotland's most northernly routes

The local authority is not responsible for the bigger roll-on, roll-off or Ro-Ro ships that connect the archipelago to the rest of the country. They either belong to the Scottish Government or to a rival private operator.

But it does own and run services to islands off Orkney Mainland’s north and south coasts. The youngest ship in its fleet is 27 years old and the oldest 50. Councillors have been lobbying for a replacement plan for a decade and a half. Its ferries have started breaking down, Mr McArthur said: “I think it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that there has already been significant disruption on some of the North Isles routes.

The politician praised Orkney Ferries, the council’s shipping firm, for its “mend and make-do approach”.

He added: “ I could not fault the staff and the crews at Orkney Ferries for keeping the show on the road. But the council would be negligent if they were not planning for circumstances where one or more of the vessels were out of commission for a prolonged period.”

READ MORE: Ferry fiasco means no bookings on Orkney route for over two weeks

Council insiders say they had an “absolute alarm bell” last month when two of their larger boats for sailings to the North Isles – communities like Westray and North Ronaldsay – were out of commission.

Council leader James Stockan have been lobbying both Edinburgh and London for money for the boats. The local authority took over outer isles services decades ago to take advantage of European funding. Since Brexit, the UK Government has been responsible for such investments.

Orkney and the Scottish Government have formed a special task force to look at ferry procurement for the islands. It has only met once but is now scheduled to convene again next month.

Sources in Edinburgh say they are taking the issue very seriously. The task force is to be led by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison.

Earlier this month Mr Stockan and most Orkney councillors supported a motion calling for the local authority to explore new constitutional arrangements. This included headline-catching talk of rejoining Norway or becoming a crown dependency like one of the Channel Islands.

Insiders acknowledge the ferry crisis at least partly provoked this move.

North Isles Councillor Mellissa Thomson, who chairs Orkney Ferries, asked if the Scottish Government was trying to “clear the isles by stealth by not supporting us.”