SCOTLAND'S lifeline ferry service faced a day of disruption with three of his ageing fleet out of action and a series of cancellations due to high winds.

The state-controlled ferry operator CalMac issued apologies for the inconvenience through a series of cancellations throughout Wednesday.

Services were cancelled on one of Scotland's busiest ferry routes between Oban and Craignure on Mull on Wednesday after one of the fleet's oldest vessels was withdrawn from service.

The 35-year-old MV Isle of Mull was sidelined due to a problem with its bow visor and there were warnings that no commercial vehicles could be accommodated.

Another of the fleet's elderly vessels, the 33-year-old MV Lord of the Isles was brought in to pick up the slack, but users were warned that capacity was limited on what is a smaller vessel which can only carry 505 passengers and 56 cars compared to Mull's 962 passengers and 70 cars.

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Services have also been suspended on another of Scotland's busiest crossings to and from Arran after initial cancellations due to a failure of 37-year-old MV Hebridean Isles' bow thrusters in the early afternoon.

After repairs were carried out CalMac said at 3.50pm that services were suspended for the rest of the day.

The ferry operator is now looking into putting on extra sailings to and from  Lochranza at the north of the island to help traffic get on and off.

CalMac were seeking a passenger charger after services between Ardmhor on the Isle of Barra and the island of Eriskay were cancelled on Wednesday afternoon due to "essential works" to the ramps of the 15-year-old MV Loch Alainn.

It comes as CalMac ended its emergency timetable brought in to deal with a surge in Covid-related absences.

It has been confirmed that services to and from South Uist which have been suspended since January 3, when the timetable was brought in, will remain so. The Mallaig to Lochboisdale service was to remain cancelled due to "vessel availability" being impacted by "emergent steelwork repairs" on the 29-year-old MV Caledonian Isles discovered while it was undergoing an overhaul.

The MV Isle of Mull had been earmarked as potential cover for the South Uist service.

The essential services timetable was introduced at the start of the month and 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.

Joe Reade, the chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said it was the "usual story of repeated breakdowns".

He said: "The basic problem is that the service is relying on a small number of over-complex, over-aged vessels.

"In this instance, the Isle of Mull is now out of action whilst they investigate and hopefully fix it. Meantime the Lord of the Isles happened to be sat in Oban, waiting re-deployment after the re-commencement of normal services. As I understand it, she was in the middle of having her car deck painted, so she is covering for the Isle of Mull for one sailing at least BUT only half the car deck can be used because one side is in the middle of being painted."

High winds have also badly affected services.

There were cancellations on one of Scotland's busiest routes between Ullapool and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, including a vital 10.30pm freight service with strong southwesterly winds gusting up to 60mph blamed. The early morning freight return journey from Ullapool was also in jeopardy.

Services that were suspended by Wednesday afternoon because of high winds included Oban to Castlebay on Barra; journeys between Oban, the Isle of Colonsay, Port Askaig on Islay and Kennacraig in Argyll and Bute; Fionnphort on Mull to Iona; the Isle of Berneray to Leverburgh on Harris; the link to and from the 'small isles' of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna and the mainland link between Mallaig, Lochaber and Armadale, West Lothian.

There were further cancellations due to the weather on services to and from the Isle of Gigha and Uig on Skye.

The essential services timetable due to Covid was due to continue till February 6.

But CalMac said on Tuesday said that the essential services timetable would end early and that a winter timetable for most routes will resume from Wednesday. Port offices would also revert to normal opening hours.

The Oban to Lochboisdale service was the only one to be suspended for the duration of the timetable in response to staff self-isolating due to Covid. And it remains offline.

CalMac has said that alternative services are available via a detour to Lochmaddy on North Uist.

South Uist residents say it has added six hours to the travelling time of a return trip to Glasgow as ferry users have to divert to get the ferry from North Uist and travel to Skye.