Scotland's publicly funded £1m-a-month emergency ferry is no longer taking passengers in the wake of safety issues that have meant it cannot use one of the nation's ports while question marks exist on its suitability with others.

The development comes in the wake of a series of issues with vessels being sidelined due to technical problems which have led to restricted services.  A complaint about a lack of fresh food in shops on two islands was made last week amidst disruption throughout the wider network caused by technical problems and storms.

Trials had been conducted on MV Alfred's suitability to be used in the port of Troon - following problems over operating from Ardrossan to serve one of Scotland's busiest routes to Arran.

In October it was discovered it could not provide lifeline services on another of ferry operator CalMac's busiest routes - as it was unable to fit in the port of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

MV Alfred had been providing support on services to and from Arran till January 18 when the harbour authority ordered all users to cease operations from Ardrossan's Irish Berth.

READ MORE: 'Ferry fiasco'? 'Ageing fleet'? How did we get here?

It was expected to be out of action until at least January 24 and remains so with no definitive date over when or if it will be back in service.

MV Alfred, as it was unable to use the alternative Ardrossan berth, ended up sent to Ayr.

Peel Ports, which owns the harbour, said they expected results over the Irish Berth to be available by the end of this month at which time a decision would be taken over the continued operation of the berth.

Following trials, it has emerged that MV Alfred has begun operating on a commercial freight only basis between Troon and Arran from Tuesday.

And CalMac has warned users that the service is "strictly for commercial customers only, no foot passengers or cars can be carried given port infrastructure limits."

CalMac had warned user groups that any service that might be run may have to be "restricted to certain vehicle types and will not be possible until ramp modifications have been carried out".

On top of that, user groups were told that Troon is not yet available for full passenger and vehicle service due to what is described by CalMac as "fire compliance issues".

CalMac has indicated that welding work had been taking place Troon to allow the MV Alfred to use the Troon for freight haulage.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator said that they had been exploring "temporary solutions to overcome this issue".

In the meantime, Arran has been relying on a one-ferry service provided by ageing 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran - which itself had been out of action earlier this month due to engine problems.

The Herald: CalMac ferry MV Isle of Arran

The development had followed a string of ferry cancellations on the Arran route, caused by storms, the port's Irish berth being closed on safety grounds following a dive inspection, and the route's main ferry, MV Caledonian Isles, remaining out of action until March after its return from overhaul was delayed due to technical problems.

Last week the Scottish Government-owned ferry operator warned of weeks of disruption as three of its ageing fleet including MV Caledonian Isles had been sidelined due to a new wave of technical problems.

MV Coruisk and MV Isle of Mull were also held up in overhaul for longer than planned for essential repairs. CalMac said it had been working with partners to finalise a timetable of repairs for each vessel.

User groups have been told that MV Isle of Mull had been hit with a new wave of rust. The 31-year-old MV Caledonian Isles, is also understood to need steel repairs.

As a result the route to and from Mull is being reduced to a single vessel service till at least February 8.

A single vessel service is also having to operate to and from Islay and Colonsay up to March 6.

One ferry user group official said that it was "baffling" that MV Alfred was not able to provide passenger support to other routes that were being hit by disruption.

"The freight support will help free up some space on the sole passenger ferry to Arran, but the questions over the suitability of MV Alfred to operate in some of our ports remains. If we are in a period of disruption to services, it amazes me that there are so many problems in working out where the ferry can be made available for passengers, if at all."

The cost of MV Alfred to operate for 15 months as CalMac's ageing fleet creeks is estimated to be at £15m.

MV Alfred was initially brought in by the Scottish Government at a cost of £9m for nine months to help support the CalMac network after a series of breakdowns of the ageing fleet.

The Herald:

A further agreement was reached on similar terms to operate throughout the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services network for an additional six months up to the end of July 2024.

It was due to join the fleet from April 18 last year but was delayed because of Pentland Ferries had issues with another vessel in its fleet - meaning it had to hold the vessel back.

Last week there were concerns that two islands Barra and Vatersay had gone nearly a full week without any food deliveries in the wake of disruption that has been spawned by the overhaul issues and bad weather.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil posted pictures showing the main supermarket in Barra with empty shelves as ferries failed to make their way from the mainland to the island.

On Thursday, CalMac said they had offered food suppliers space on board services from Uig on the Isle of Skye so that they could deliver to Barra, and they are also on board the vessel from Oban to Castlebay.

Robbie Drummond, CalMac chief executive said: “Strong winds and sea swell prevented us from running normal services for several days and led to all routes being cancelled or at high risk of cancellation. This weather continued to affect sailings yesterday and today.

"We understand that it is a very challenging and difficult time for island communities, with travel and supply chain disrupted. We are constantly looking at options to resume services whenever there’s a weather window that is safe to do so, including a service from Castlebay to Oban, returning from Oban.

“Cancelling a sailing is always a last resort but the safety of customers, our crews, and port staff is our absolute priority. We are grateful to the communities who use the network for their patience and understanding during storms, and for our own staff ashore and on the vessels, for doing everything they can to restore services when conditions improve.

Pentland Ferries staff, who operate services on behalf of Scottish Government-owned CalMac, bought MV Alfred for £14m in 2019 to operate between Caithness and Orkney.

It was built in Vietnam and can accommodate 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches.

At the time it was described as the "most environmentally-friendly ferry in Scotland".

Under charter, all crew is provided by Pentland Ferries who will be responsible for delivery of service and the operational, technical and safety management of the vessel, including maintenance, repair, overhaul and provision of crew throughout the charter period.

Three years ago a deal to buy a vessel similar in design to MV Alfred for £9m collapsed after the Scottish Government-owned procuring and ferry owning company Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) demanded a foreign firm pay up to £100,000 to pay for modifications that would allo

w it to gain UK maritime approval for it.

CalMac has said that the Arran service is "coping well" without Alfred running passengers.

Mr Drummond added: “MV Alfred has been a valuable addition to the CalMac fleet, providing much-needed resilience on the main Arran route whilst MV Hebridean Isles was off service for an extended period last year. 

“Everyone at CalMac is committed to providing the communities we serve with the best possible service. It is in that spirit that the MV Alfred’s deployment, like every vessel in our network, remains under constant review.  Right now, she is best placed to support the main Arran route.

"It's also why we are in regular contact with our partners who help us to serve the communities using the route. When we have more information on the Irish berth at Ardrossan, we'll communicate with the people in those communities in a timely manner."