Islands businesses have slammed a decision by a ferry operator to cut lifeline sailings to Islay by two a week.

One freight firm described CalMac services to and from the island as a “nightmare” as the Scottish Government-owned ferry company said it is to axe sailings to allow for preparations for the first of two new vessels expected later this year.

CalMac said the shrunken timetable for Kennacraig to Port Ellen is “due to the knock-on effects on crew hours of rest caused by the upgrade works” for new berths at Kennacraig ahead of the introduction of the Turkish-built MV Isle of Islay, which is due in October.

However, cutting summer sailings puts pressure on existing businesses and residents and comes after a delay on booking availability.

READ MORE: Turkey-built ferry to arrive five years faster than Scots fiasco ship

Robbie Drummond, chief executive of CalMac, told The Herald: “Our summer timetable for Islay was published on Wednesday, February 14, covering the period from March 29 to June 3. Customers will be able to book from 8am next Friday, February 23. 

“The publication of the timetable was delayed whilst we explored options to provide the best possible service to and from Islay.

“We know that ferry services play a vital role in supporting the local community and economy and we apologise for this delay."

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He also said: “There is a significant programme of upgrade works scheduled for the route to prepare for the arrival of Islay’s two new vessels. Whilst this will cause some short-term disruption, it will also be pivotal to the introduction of these vessels in 2024 and 2025, which will bolster the long-term resilience and reliability of Islay’s ferry service. 

“The timetable this summer will have two fewer sailings per week, on a Friday evening and Saturday morning, due to the knock-on effects on crew hours of rest caused by the upgrade works, which are set to finish on August 21.

“We appreciate that the communities we serve would prefer to have a full timetable operating, but this is the optimal service we can provide in the circumstances."

READ MORE: Ferries being built in Turkey progressing 'on time and on budget'

Businesses raised concerns over the cuts. James MacAulay, of Islay Logistics, was quoted in The Times as saying: “The ferries are a nightmare as it is without any more cutting down sailings.

“It gets a lot busier during the summer, having fewer sailings will definitely hurt my business.”

The Ileach community newspaper reported that Port Ellen retailer Frazer Campbell wrote to CalMac over provision, saying the “lack of ferries has been highly destructive to all businesses on the island, as the combination of lack of goods to sell to customers, and having to waste goods with short shelf lives that sit at Kennacraig, is money that small businesses cannot afford to throw away at this time of increased costs”.