FERRY users are to be hit with more disruption after CalMac said it was extending its Covid 'essential services' timetable by at least a further two weeks.

It means that services to South Uist, will be further suspended after being out of action since January 3.

The new ferry timetable introduced at the start of the month 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.

Now CalMac have extended the cut to services saying 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.

CalMac said the latest figures show that 203 members of staff are unavailable because of Covid, 17 more than when last reported last week.

But the ferry operator said that it is a rise of 50 from when it introduced the curtailed timetable at Hogmanay.

The ferry operator said while the total number of sailings has had to be reduced by around 15%, they are still carrying all passengers, cars and commercial traffic who wish to travel.

It comes as the ferry operator laid on three ferry sailings for South Uist, two yesterday and one on Wednesday after coming under fire for withdrawing the lifeline services for three weeks.

The ferry operator added the unscheduled sailings after carrying out a review in the wake of being criticised for "singling out" South Uist when it began the Covid timetable.

HeraldScotland:

The Oban to Lochboisdale service was the only one to be suspended for the duration of the timetable from January 3 to 23 in response to staff self-isolating due to Covid.

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.

It has written to the Scottish government asking why the Lochboisdale service was the only one across the entire CalMac fleet to be suspended.

The group said: "This is clear evidence that our service is treated as dispensable and demonstrates a complete lack of care and respect to our community." While two sailings to and from the island were scheduled for yesterday (Monday) and another taking people off the island is planned for Wednesday morning, all other services remain cancelled till January 23 and now till at least February 6.

Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing director said, “We fully appreciate the difficulties these changes will cause for some of our customers, and we apologise for any disruption to their journeys over the next few weeks. I am very grateful for their continued patience and understanding at a time of intense pressure.

“We will continue to review the temporary timetable on an ongoing basis and will add services back in as soon as we possibly can, however a return to a full service will require a significant reduction in the level of staff absence. In the meantime, we will continue to operate as flexibly as possible to ensure we restore sailings where and when we can. Over the past week we have restored a full timetable to the Gourock-Kilcreggan and Colintraive-Rhubodach routes.

“Community feedback is also important at this time. In response to recent feedback, we altered the temporary timetable on the Portavadie-Tarbert route in Argyll to ensure that local schoolchildren could get home from school. A change we were happy to make for the local community.”

Last week, CalMac warned of further disruptions across ferry services as more than one in five staff were self-isolating due to Covid.

The state-controlled ferry operator warned that this is "more than twice" the numbers who were absent due to Covid on Hogmanay and sparked the new timetable.