CalMac has provided no new support for Arran in a shake up of services after the biggest and oldest vessels in Scotland's ageing lifeline ferry network was sidelined for nearly three months.

The 31-year-old MV Caledonian Isles which serves on the Arran route, one of the busiest on the Scottish coast, and is due to be replaced, has been out of action since going for an overhaul at the start of January with repairs expected to cost £5m.

The ferry operator warned of disruption across the Clyde and Hebrides network as a result of steelwork issues with the Caledonian Isles due to be replaced by one of the two wildly over budget and delayed ferries being built at Ferguson Marine.

The Isle of Arran Ferry Committee said it was pushing for contingency plans over the latest problem to hit CalMac's ageing fleet and the new transport minister was expected to consult with CalMac managers to find out what action can be taken to support the island.

But in the new shake-up CalMac said it was sticking with the current single vessel services covered by the 41-year-old MV Isle of Arran.  The possibility of the £1m-a-month emergency Scottish Government charter MV Alfred supporting Arran services from March 9 when it returns from its annual overhaul is being evaluated.

READ MORE: CalMac: No apologies as ScotGov 'regrets' latest ferry 'shambles'

It had to be moved from Ardrossan to operate a freight only service from Troon to Arran after the Irish Berth in Ardrossan was shut for safety reasons.  It is unable to use the alternative Ardrossan berth.

Instead it is Islay that will gain, as MV Hebridean Isles is due to join MV Finlaggan to provide a double-ferry service to the whisky-producing island from March 8.

Both ferries will serve the Islay route until March 28 when the summer timetable kicks in.

MV Finlaggan is having its scheduled maintenance delayed to allow for the two-ferry move.

The Herald:

CalMac says it has been consulting with communities across the entire network to gather feedback on potential redeployment options. It says the feedback will play a "critical role" in re-shaped summer deployment plans due to be published on March 5.

Robbie Drummond, chief executive of CalMac, said: “We know the fact we are having to redeploy vessels has caused concern in communities across the whole network, and I would like to thank everyone for their understanding and for taking the time to provide their views on several potential redeployment options.

“Given our fleet was already stretched to the limit, it is inevitable the loss of one of our larger vessels during peak season will cause some disruption across the wider network. But our team has been working hard to evaluate what we can do for our summer timetable to minimise that disruption. Any decisions on vessel deployment are not taken lightly.

“The network, and in particular Islay and Arran, will soon benefit from new vessels which will help to provide the resilient service communities deserve. Until they are operational, we will continue to do whatever we can to provide a reliable service.”

The Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency has previously said the news about MV Caledonian Isles "is deeply regrettable" and expected CalMac to come forward with details of the changes to timetables as soon as possible, to allow ferry users to plan ahead and keep disruption to a minimum.

A ferry user group official said that the shake-up was "pitting one island against another amidst a mad scramble" to ensure an adequate service from the ageing fleet.

"I have to say I am surprised that despite the indicators from government that Arran has ended up with nothing from the loss of the Caledonian Isles, but Islay clearly has," he said. "Both islands are needing support but it seems that the loser here is Arran. Which I have say has left be bamboozled."

MV Caledonian Isles was sidelined for over three months with further steelwork and engine difficulties this time last year with repair work then estimated at £1m. It had been due to leave the yard after an overhaul before issues with the engines, steelwork and bearings were noted by engineers.

The Herald:

Further steelwork problems were attributed to a further period spent in the yard in early 2022.

The vessel was found to have had major technical problems during overhaul again this year and was not initially expected back till at least the end of next month, until the latest issues struck Users have been told that the vessel needs "extensive steelwork" leading to concerns that it is suffering rust issues.

The Scottish Parliament connectivity minister, Jim Fairlie, said on Tuesday in the wake of the sidelining of Caledonian Isles that the transport minister, Fiona Hyslop, had spoke to CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond on Monday to convey her concern and made clear that "everything must be done to address capacity and provide assurances for the Arran community and others across the network, particularly as we look towards the Easter break and beyond".

Users were told last week that MV Caledonian Isles will be delayed in dry dock for a further estimated 16 weeks.

A message to user groups said that the ferry operator had received clarification from the dry dock operator on the initial scope of "significant steel renewal and repair required" at a cost of £5m.

"Work has commenced to survey and scope the requirements for steel renewal and repair, and the estimated timescale for her return to service may be subject to change following a fuller assessment of repairs required," user groups were told.

Caledonian Isles and the 26-year-old MV Clansman had been sidelined for a third successive year after faults including rust emerged during annual overhauls.

MV Clansman was due to return to service on February 9 but after users being told it will return on February 19, it has now been put back until at least Friday (February 23). It made a return at the weekend.

Last year MV Clansman was delayed from coming back into services after an overhaul identified steelwork corrosion which had to be replaced. On February 10, it was said work that was needed was supposed to take a few days.

But 13 days later she was still out and had to go to the King James V dock in Glasgow for further inspection after further issues.

And in early 2022, an inspection of the Clansman uncovered the need for further steelwork due to corrosion during her overhaul meaning her return was delayed by a further three weeks.

The latest issue with MV Clansman, said to have needed complex work to the engine resulted in disruption to services.