CALMAC has warned of further disruptions to lifeline ferry services with more than one in five staff now self-isolating due to Covid.

The state-controlled ferry operator has warned that this is "more than twice" the numbers who were absent due to virus on Hogmanay.

That led to an “essential services” ferry timetable which has saw cuts to ten of CalMac’s 26 routes including introducing a single vessel rather than the double ferry timetable for the service to and from Brodick on Arran - one of Scotland's busiest routes.

Islanders have lodged protests with ministers over the effect on South Uist as the state-controlled ferry operator suspended sailings from Lochboisdale to Oban on January 3 to last to January 23 after as part of the essential services timetable.

Stòras Uibhist a community owned company that manages the 93,000 acre South Uist Estate comprising the Outer Hebridean islands of Eriskay, South Uist and parts of Benbecula questioned why the Lochboisdale service was the only one to be suspended.

CalMac has now warned that the increasing number of crew on vessels and staff in ports either testing positive, self-isolating or waiting for Covid test results has meant that CalMac is "unable to operate to full capacity at the current time".

The ferry operators said the essential services timetable "is helping to focus resources on maintaining lifeline routes, but disruption is likely to continue for some time".

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CalMac said the latest figures show that 151 crew and 35 port staff are currently unavailable because of Covid. This equated to a Covid absence rate of 20.3% amongst all staff and is in addition to a non-coronavirus absence rate of 6%.

CalMac said: "Maritime law sets out a legal requirement that ferries must not operate without a minimum number of crew on board. Positive cases on a vessel means that replacement crew must be sourced, which may result in sailings being cancelled if they cannot be found in time."

The MV Isle of Mull was taken out of service on Wednesday due to crew members returning positive Covid tests causing to disruption to one of Scotland's busiest island routes to Craignure. MV Finlaggan was withdrawn from the Islay route due to a crew member returning a positive Covid test on Tuesday and was due to return to action on Wednesday afternoon.

Suspended services on Wednesday included trips to Kerrera CalMac has also warned that due to the Covid situation on-board food and drink outlets are shut.

Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing direct, said: “The absence of so much of our frontline staff is placing immense pressure on our ability to maintain a normal service. We are now focusing as much of our resources as possible on keeping essential deliveries going to our communities.

“There is a possibility that your sailing may be disrupted or cancelled, so please check the status before you start your journey to a port. As this situation is constantly developing, cancellations may also take place at very short notice.

“Help to protect passengers and crew by wearing a face covering in port offices and inside ferries, and please do not travel if you have tested positive and are still within the self-isolation period, even if you feel better.”

As CalMac brought in its "essential services" ferry timetable at Hogmanay, it said that 93 crew and 18 port staff were absent – nine per cent of crews and five per cent of port staff, on top of a non-coronavirus absence rate of 6 per cent.