STATE-controlled ferry operator CalMac has moved to put off island day trippers as it sought an emergency solution to ease disruption to lifeline services on Mull due to a vessel breakdown. 

A relief ferry is being brought in today (Thursday) to try and resolve the latest in a series of ferry breakdowns that have hit the islands - although service cancellations are stretching into at least a further two days.

The 18-year-old MV Coruisk, a younger member of Scotland's ageing ferry fleet has had engine issues since Thursday leading to a series of cancelled sailings to Craignure on Mull - one of Scotland's most popular holiday islands.

READ MORE: Mull anger as another of Scotland's lifeline CalMac ferries breaks down

The 35-year-old MV Loch Linnhe, which is a relief vessel and one of the oldest in the ageing fleet operated by CalMac will be in place from Thursday after travelling up from the Clyde. It will operate a shuttle service on a different route - Lochaline to Fishnish, It can take 12 cars - less than the 40 carried by Coruisk.

HeraldScotland:

MV Loch Linnhe. Source YouTube (Scott Braid)

But it has been confirmed that service cancellations are continuing till at least Friday, with travellers encouraged to travel on the Lochaline in the Highlands to Fishnish on Mull route where possible.

Yesterday, problems with the engine propulsion management system meant that eight sailings between Oban and Craignure were cancelled.

CalMac said that repairs were being carried out - and advised against day trips to Mull - the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides.

The operator said: "Service engineers will continue to investigate the issue on the vessel in Oban.

"Due to volume of traffic on sailings we encourage vehicles on affected sailings to travel via Lochaline – Fishnish where possible.

"Due to the passenger volumes we would not advise customers to travel on day trips to the island due to the possibility of reduced availability on return sailings."

CalMac said Loch Linnhe has only been called on now because issues previously had only been sporadic.

On Saturday CalMac told users of the Largs to Cumbrae crossing that due to "constrained capacity" it was no longer able to accommodate day-trippers travelling by car.

CalMac said that this was be cause all routes are running at 35% the usual capacity because of Covid physical distancing restrictions.

Meanwhile it emerged that two crossings between Mull and the mainland from Tobermory and Kilchoan in the Highlands running at 1pm and 1.45pm have been cancelled till Tuesday.

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said: "This next chapter in the long story of breakdowns that has dogged CalMac in recent times is precipitating a crisis on the islands.

HeraldScotland:

"The Loch Linnhe is a small ‘land craft’ style vessel that in the summer months is spare. It’s all they’ve got.

"On top of all these problems, CalMac continue to operate their ferries at less than a quarter of their permitted passenger capacity, due to social distancing restrictions.

“Public transport is returning to normality elsewhere in the country, and planes are filled to 100%. But still, our largest ferries are carrying a fraction of their capacity. We have no alternative means of getting to and from the island, and this is impacting on every aspect of island life and economy. Just when we should be trading our way to recovery from Covid 19, our economic lifeblood – tourists – cannot get here because of CalMac’s carrying capacity."

Meanwhile, there were six ferry service cancellations on the Largs to Cumbrae crossing on Wednesday as crew members have had to isolate due to an outbreak of Covid-19 on the 35-year-old MV Loch Riddon.

There have been up to 90 minute waits for cars and foot passengers on the crossing as sailings on one of the oldest vessels in the fleet were suspended from Tuesday after a crew member tested positive for Covid-19.

It meant the two-vessel service was cut in half.

Problems with MV Coruisk, which takes 240 passengers and 40 cars and is the second vessel on the Oban to Craignure route alongside MV Isle of Mull during the summer - first emerged on Thursday.

Islanders on Mull had hopes of a ferry ‘rescue’ dashed just a week ago, when negotiations to charter the Pentland Ferries-owned catamaran MV Pentalina planned to work the Oban-Craignure route broke down.

It came after the Herald revealed that the catamaran which Scots transport chiefs wanted to use as an "emergency" to ease Scotland's ferry crisis was taken out of commercial service over "safety" concerns.

the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency had been considering the suitability of Pentalina, which can hold 58 cars and 350 passengers.

Brian Johnson, the chief executive of the MCA, the executive agency of that implements British and international maritime law and safety policy, said there were "discrepancies" uncovered over structural fire protection relating to the passenger accommodation and a corridor providing access to the crew accommodation and galley servery.

Ferry bosses inquired about chartering Pentalina on March 26 - nearly three weeks before the engine failure of CalMac's biggest vessel, MV Loch Seaforth, which caused seven weeks of chaos across Scotland's lifeline ferry network.

Some 16 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The network issues comes as would-be ferry replacements MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are still languishing in now state-owned Ferguson Marine's shipyard, with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract.

Robert Morrison, CalMac operations director said: “A problem with the MV Coruisk’s engine propulsion management system has occurred and we have had to withdraw her from the Oban-Craignure route while investigations take place. We will work very hard to accommodate some of the displaced traffic as directly as possible on MV Isle of Mull Oban – Craignure service, but inevitably, with the current high demand on all sailings, some traffic will have to route overland via Corran Ferry and to Mull through Lochaline to Fishnish. To support the regular vessel on the shorter crossing, we are deploying a second vessel from the Clyde area.

“We are conscious the continuing service issue with MV Coruisk is having a direct impact and alternative routing may be difficult for some of our customers. Our teams with the supporting external specialists are working strenuously to find a solution to return the vessel to service.”