ONE of the oldest and biggest vessels in the state-owned ferry fleet has been taken out of service after colliding with a pier - causing a series of cancellations to services.

All sailings on the Tarbert, Uig and Lochmaddy routes had to be cancelled today (Thursday) after state-controlled ferry operator CalMac reported that the 22-year-old MV Hebrides "made contact" with Lochmaddy Pier on Wednesday night.

It comes after the 33-year-old Lord of the Isles was taken out of service due to a fault earlier this week and is not expected back till next week at the earliest - leaving Uist without a service.

MV Hebrides, can carry 612 passengers and 90 cars was due to be replaced by a new ship, one of two dual-fuel vessels at the centre of a ferry-building fiasco that are languishing in Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow on the Clyde.

Hebrides underwent a temporary repair today to allow the vessel to travel to James Watt Dock in Greenock tonight, which has specialist welding facilities, for permanent repair.

A timescale for return to service will be confirmed once full assessment of required repairs has been carried out.

Western Isles local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has reacted with anger at Uist being left without a service.

HeraldScotland:

Islanders are now facing journeys of more than five hours, involving multiple ferry crossings, to get to the mainland.

Services on the Ardrossan to Campbeltown route will be cancelled from Friday although Thursday night's scheduled sailings will go ahead.

It comes as it emerged that almost 1000 passengers and 338 cars had their bookings on the Lochboisdale to Mallaig ferry service abruptly cancelled as a result of the Lord of the Isles being withdrawn from service for eight days.

In addition, 698 metres of commercial space – equivalent to about 26 trailer-loads – were cancelled, throwing island businesses into disarray.

The figures come following a decision to withdraw the Lord of the Isles for repairs to its drencher system, in the hope this will “allow the vessel to remain in service throughout the summer”. It sas said that it would have little impact because of low usage.

Lord of the Isles headed for Greenock on Tuesday and, according to CalMac “is estimated to return to service on May 25 at the earliest.

After the sidelining of MV Hebrides, CalMac said that to protect lifeline services, MV Isle of Arran will be redeployed from the Ardrossan-Brodick-Campbeltown route to cover the Kennacraig-Islay service, with MV Hebridean Isles moving from Islay to cover the Skye Triangle. MV Loch Bhrusda will operate additional sailings will operate on Barra-Eriskay.

MV Caledonian Isles sailings will continue to operate as scheduled, and MV Loch Linnhe will act as a second vessel on the Lochranza/Claonaig route to support services to and from Arran.

The ferry operator said extra capacity is available on the Ullapool-Stornoway route tonight and Sunday night. There will also be an additional passenger sailing on Saturday night.

A spokeswoman for CalMac said: “This is a significant disruption for our communities, and we sincerely apologise for this at what is already a very difficult time for them with the loss of MV Lord of the Isles. Our immediate priority is to ensure lifeline services such as food supplies and urgent medical care can be transported.

“Removing vessels from routes is always a very difficult decision and one we would rather not make, but our options are extremely limited, and this is the only way to protect lifeline services at short notice. This redeployment means that all islands will continue to receive a service during this current disruption.

“We are keeping customers informed and will provide another update as soon as a full assessment of the required repairs has been completed in Greenock.”

Normally South Uist's Lochboisdale to Mallaig crossing is a three hour and 45 minute journey, while North Uist's Lochmaddy to Uig ferry trip takes one hour and 45 minutes.

But now the options available to people wanting to travel from the Uists to the mainland are to travel south and a take a ferry from Eriskay to Castlebay on Barra and then a ferry to Oban. This would involve more than five hours of travelling to get to Oban.

An alternative is to travel  north and take a ferry from Bernerary to Harris and then a 56 mile journey by road to Stornoway in Lewis for a ferry to Ullapool - a total journey of almost five hours.

CalMac said repairs to Lord of the Isles are "progressing well" and is expected to be back in service on the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route next week.

But island haulier, Gail Robertson, said: “There are a lot of very angry people in South Uist. We are pressing them to work round the clock on repairs, as they did to get the Caledonian Isles back into service, but so far we have had no assurance of that”.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has called on CalMac to charter a catamaran ferry as cover for disrupted islands sailings.

The state-owned ferry operator CalMac is having to handle an ageing ferry fleet with Glen Sannox and Hull 802 still languishing in Port Glasgow as the costs of their construction have soared from the original £97m contract to at least £250m and delivery is over five years late.