CalMac is making moves to pull out of a key Scots port in the wake of safety issues and adverse weather.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator has moved to begin trial berthing MV Isle of Arran, the only ferry carrying passengers to and from Arran at Troon.

CalMac say that if successful, the vessel will begin operating the service on a "temporary" basis from Troon but there is concern that it is the first step to a permanent move for the services, with the £1m-a-month Scottish Government-chartered emergency vessel MV Alfred already operating from there.

No exact timetable for how long the ferry might be based in Troon has been given.

The ferry operator said that  an adverse weather forecast in the coming days and with strong easterly winds, may mean the vessel cannot berth at Ardrossan.

It said it was "committed to maintaining the service throughout adverse weather".

Users say any any long period based in Troon would mean travelling times rising from 55 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes and concerns have been raised over a potential cut in sailings.

READ MORE: Future of Ardrossan for new ferries in new doubt after part closure

The Irish Berth at Ardrossan, which had been used by an emergency CalMac ferry for the key lifeline route to Arran was put out of action on January 18 when the harbour authority ordered all users to cease operations.

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 is unable to use the alternative Ardrossan berth, ended up sent to Ayr and is now providing a freight-only services from Troon.

Last week, Peel Ports Group, the harbour owner decided to close the reserve berth for good due to "accelerated wear and tear" which they say is caused by its increased use.

The Herald: Ardrossan ferry terminal

It comes after the Herald revealed that the port may not ever by used to take much delayed and over-budget ferries despite the green light being given for upgrade works by the current First Minister six years ago.

The Herald previously revealed that the costs of the project to upgrade the mainland port of what is one of Scotland's busiest ferry routes, which is in limbo, has doubled.

Business minister Ivan McKee insisted in September 2022 that the harbour and port infrastructure at Ardrossan would be ready to take the two lifeline ferries when they finally set sail after being built at the nationalised Ferguson Marine shipyard in Inverclyde.

It was Humza Yousaf, the current First Minister, who was then transport minister, who gave the green light for the major upgrade at Ardrossan in April 2018, nearly three years after the contracts were signed to have Inverclyde shipyard firm Ferguson Marine build the ferries.

It followed a public commitment from the Scottish Government that Ardrossan would remain Arran's mainland port, in the face of a rival bid from Troon.

But the Ardrossan harbour debacle has been described as big a farce as the ferry fiasco which has stained the Scottish Government's reputation.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac has already been planning to use Troon rather than Ardrossan for the two ferries that will serve Arran. That was when it was hoped that the first of the vessels would be ready for passengers in the Spring of last year.

CalMac chief executive, Robbie Drummond, said: “The sudden closure of the Irish berth at Ardrossan harbour is symptomatic of the lack of investment – which has long been promised but never delivered – at the port.

“Everyone at CalMac, who is committed to delivering a reliable ferry service to travellers on Arran and the mainland, shares in the local community’s disappointment at the decision. That’s why we’re not standing still and have been working hard on contingency plans since the Irish berth was closed for inspection in January to build resilience on the route.

The Herald: Robbie Drummond

“With our partners, we’ve accelerated efforts to prepare Troon and to minimise disruption to the service to and from Arran. That includes carrying out weekend works at Troon to help launch a commercial service quickly, which is supplementing the main Ardrossan-Brodick route. We’re also running additional services from Lochranza to Claonaig.

“We want to build on this, and work is ongoing to do just that. We’re recruiting extra staff for Troon so that we can continue to efficiently run a service from both ports.”

Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group said: "The closure of the Irish berth and the poor condition of the rest of the Ardrossan port infrastructure, including new damage to the fendering, leave CalMac with little option but to look for alternative berth in Troon.

"With the forecast of days of strong easterly winds is when the Irish berth would be a preferred berth, the alternative of Troon may offer the ability to maintain some service continuity.

"Clearly this a rapidly developing scenario, and we await the results of he berthing trials and details on a proposed timetable and passenger logistics.

"Given the lack of resilience at Ardrossan, this may be the first step to shifting the service to Troon on a temporary or possibly even permanent basis.

"It is not without cost though, as the longer passage and longer turnaround time in Troon will reduce the number of sailings per day by at least 20%. That means a reduction in frequency and capacity further compounding the disruption to the lifeline Arran ferry service."

One ferry user group official said there was a fear that the move would be the beginning of the end for use of Ardrossan as a port for CalMac ferries with the prospect of future disruption.

"There has been adverse weather in the past week and there has been no requirement to move," he said. "The decision does not make sense as it stands and has all the hallmarks of the row on Barra when its ferry was moved to Stornoway last week.

"This can only be happening because of the decision to close the Irish Berth. It cannot be merely coincidental. "

CalMac confirmed the trial will lead to a service cancellation on Wednesday, with customers booked on being informed. CalMac has advised only pre-booked cars and foot passengers to attend Troon.

CalMac has also confirmed that MV Caledonian Isles, which also serves the Arran route will require an increased scope of steelwork repairs.

The Herald:

The need for the work was identified during the vessel’s annual overhaul. MV Caledonian Isles is due to move to Cammell Laird dockyard near Birkenhead later this week, where the full scope and timeline for repairs will be confirmed.

The vessel operates on the Ardrossan-Brodick route and entered overhaul on January 4. An update on timescales for the vessel’s return will be given once inspections have taken place when she is back in dry dock.

Mr Drummond added : “It is a team effort to provide ferry services, and we’ll continue to engage with all key stakeholders along the route as we prepare for a new ferry to serve the route later this year. That includes the Arran Ferry Committee, who we are meeting quickly and who continue to provide us with valuable advice, feedback and support.”

The full business case for the Ardrossan project remains incomplete and that there is even uncertainty over the project costs. Consequently, the project has still to be put out to tender.

The Scottish Government confirmed that no decision had been made over whether Ardrossan would remain the mainland port for the Arran service – placing serious question marks over the upgrade project.

It is understood there have been issues over how the cost – which in 2022 was estimated at £40m – would be divided between the Scottish Government quango Transport Scotland, the harbour owner Peel Ports and North Ayrshire Council.

There have been further discussions amongst funding partners over the required project scope – which could set the costs even higher.

According to one letter from the Scottish Government to the Ardrossan Harbour Task Force, made up of the potential funding partners and co-ordinated by the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency, concerns about the integrity of the quay walls have been heightened following recent structural failures to parts.

The walls were expected to provide support to an LNG tank, which would be used to help fuel the vessels.

According to Peel Ports, the "extended and regular use has caused accelerated wear and tear to the berth’s structure, making it unsafe for continued service".

It said the harbour’s main Arran berth remains fully operational.

An indicative project programme for Ardrossan was presented to the ministerial task force early last year which then indicated that construction was expected to begin this spring with completion by spring 2026 – too late for either of the ferries.

Both ferries, Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa were due online in the first half of 2018, with one intitially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but are at least six years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract. It has been confirmed that both are now to serve Arran.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled for May 2025. Glen Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and is due for delivery in the spring.

But the dates of arrival have been constantly in a state of flux as their construction has been plagued by design challenges, cost overruns and delays.

CalMac has already been in the middle of a row over ferry relocation.

Barra was told to prepare for potential food shortages after their ferry was relocated to provide a "safe berth" last week.

The move caused uproar on the island of Barra which has already suffered food shortages as CalMac deal with sidelined ageing ferries and stormy weather.

The row surrounded a decision to relocate the island ferry MV Isle of Lewis to Stornoway from Thursday until Saturday.

The Herald has learned that as a result the island Co-op which had suffered food shortages nearly two weeks ago was advised to order additional stock as a result in preparation.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil wrote to the transport minister Fiona Hyslop calling for redress to island communities in the wake of disruption to the ferry services.

Jim McSporran, port director of Peel Ports Clydeport said last week: "We would like to reassure the residents and businesses of Arran that the Arran berth is the primary berth for ferries into Ardrossan harbour, and that service will continue to be used as normal, subject to any extreme weather conditions.”

Mr McSporran continued: “We are deeply concerned that the people served by this lifeline service are unable to plan for their future because of the lengthy delays that have affected the redevelopment to date.

"We have already provided around 80 per cent of the funds required to progress the wider project up to this point, and we will continue to work with the funding partners on the procurement of this project.

“We eagerly await the conclusion of the business case review, and we are hopeful the Scottish Government will commit permanently to Ardrossan as the destination for the Arran ferry.”