CONCERNS have been raised about food shortages and tourists sleeping in cars as a Calmac ferry breakdown caused most services on a key Outer Hebridean island route to be cancelled over the weekend.

The 19-year-old car ferry MV Loch Portain broke down on Friday afternoon leaving services on the route to Leverburgh on Harris and the island of Berneray -  an important link in the  Hebridean island chain -  cancelled throughout the weekend.

The disruption has cause islands mayhem with Grant Fulton, a Harris-based independent Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillor raising deep concerns about the knock-on effects around the Outer Hebrides and the wider implications of a "ferry lottery" which he feared will put off tourists.

The state-controlled ferry operator Calmac has said that a smaller ferry is expected to be brought in today (Monday) to take up the slack as Loch Portrain remains out of action due to issues with its propulsion system.

Users have been told that engineers required to deal with the problem were not available till Monday.

Mr Fulton said he fears the knock on effect of islands' disruption is that tourist will not return.

He said he had been contacted by several people and groups who have been severely affected and said folk were study in Harris and Lewis with no accommodation and will be "struggling to even get food due to the crisis with lack of staff in food businesses".

He said: Tourists are having to sleep in cars.

"Accommodation providers in North and South Uist will have cancellations due to their guests not able to travel. Travel plans are scuppered with folk trying to make the Lochboisdale [South Uist] and Barra ferries as many tourists use the hopscotch CalMac booking option travelling down or up the islands.

"CalMac have no extra capacity to provide a ferry when another breaks down. Almost a weekly occurrence at this stage.

"Accommodation providers in Harris are now getting future cancellations due to the ferry lottery system.

"How are our own businesses supposed to survive with the increased fuel costs and ferry lottery system? We have shellfish that needs transported, food and fuel that needs to come to the island.

"Is this acceptable? Will these visitors return? I certainly wouldn’t."

CalMac said a limited passenger-only charter was organised, which required booking.

"We recognise that cancelling a service can be very challenging for our customers and the communities we serve and apologise for the disruption this will cause," the ferry operator told users.


Grant Fulton. Source: Scottish Water

It said Loch Portrain, which can carry 146 passengers and 34 cars, will remain out of action today (Monday) whilst further investigations are carried out on the vessel’s propulsion system issue.

It was hoped a smaller relief vessel, MV Loch Bhrusda, which can carry 150 passengers and 18 cars, would be in place on Sunday but is now expected to take up service from Monday.

"As a result of the reduced capacity this ferry offers not all existing bookings can be honoured - we will operate a prioritisation system and port staff will contact affected passengers," CalMac said.

It said that as a result of crew hours, the 5.20pm sailing from Berneray on Monday and the 6.30pm sailing from Leverburgh have been cancelled.

It comes as the Scottish Government’s ferry procurement body, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) said it will costs an 'eyewatering' £1.5bn to attempt to sort out the nation's ferry fiasco over ten years, after admittig the lifeline network has suffered from "many years" of under-investment.

In 2022, some 17 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland is now over its 25-year-old life expectancy.

One traveller, Christina Cunningham made a social media plea for accommodation saying her family were "stranded and unable to reach our next rental property on Eriskay".

"Does anyone know of any dog friendly accommodation? CalMac are not taking phone calls," she said.


MV Loch Bhrusda is due to be brought in on Monday after three days of major disruption

She was eventually offered a room for the night by after the appeal but said she managed to get a hotel booked after CalMac advised they couldn't get her group to Eriskay before Wednesday.

Marije Stellingwerf-de Vries echoed Ms Cunningham's concerns saying she was stranded on Uig on Lewis before finding a detour: "Please, we're stuck too! Trying to call CalMac, it's impossible to reach them! We've been trying to call them for two hours now and we only got answered on the regular number, but they told us to call the office in Tarbert. But we can't reach them."

It comes as the South Uist Business Ferry Users Group plan to investigate the economic cost of losing ferry services between May and June.

With backing from 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 and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the ferry users' group has commissioned MKA Economics to complete an independent economic impact assessment of losing ferry services to Uist between May 25 and June 10.

It is said that the disruption to ferry services occurred because CalMac took the Lord of the Isles vessel out of service for repairs and could not supply a replacement vessel.

A CalMac spokesman said: “An issue has emerged with MV Loch Portain’s propulsion system and investigations are currently being carried out. We have arranged specialist support to rectify the issues as soon as practicably possible.

“Since the vessel went off service, a passenger-only charter has been in operation between Berneray and Leverburgh. Relief vessel MV Loch Bhrusda is now in position as of Sunday evening and will take up vehicular service on Monday, June 20. Due to the relief vessel having a lower service speed, we will only be operating four return sailings daily, and therefore will be required to use a prioritisation of traffic for the relief vessel. Port staff will contact affected passengers.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank service users for their patience. We will restore the service to normal as soon as we possibly can.”