FERRY services on two routes have been brought to a standstill after an ageing CalMac ferry was removed from service due to technical issues.

Services began being cancelled on Tuesday after a problem with MV Hebrides' firefighting system which came a matter of days after it was evacuated after a bombscare.

Today sailings between Uig on the Isle of Skye & Lochmaddy on North Uist and Uig and Tarbert on the Isle of Harris were cancelled.

The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator CalMac has apologised to customers for the disruption.

Finlay MacRae, head of operations at CalMac, said on Tuesday that contractors had been at Uig on Tuesday afternoon to carry out repairs.

Now CalMac says the 22-year-old vessel had been removed from service and will reposition to Ullapool to undergo repairs.

The ferry operator said it was investigating potential contingency plans.

It is understood the decision to move the vessel was to enable Uig to be kept free in the hope another vessel could be brought in.  But users have been told that this has so far not proved possible.  

In mid-afternoon, CalMac said the third oldest vessel in the fleet, the 37-year-old Hebridean Isles is being temporarily moved today to the Uig triangle to provide a service on Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert.   That has led to the cancellations of  three sailings affecting the islands of Islay and Colonsay.

They are the 8.45pm service from Port Askaig on the isle of Islay to the mainland, the 4.30pm from Oban to Colonsay and the 7.15pm return journey 

It laid on an extra return sailing on MV Lord of the Isles on Wednesday morning between Armadale on Skye and Lochboisdale on South Uist which had a knock on effect on other lifeline services.

Users have been told that it would prioritise lifeline freight in the first instance with any additional space being offered on a first come first served basis.

It also meant further cancellations going into Thursday affecting South Uist and Islay.

With Hebridean Isles re-deployed five sailings between the mainland and Port Ellen on Islay were cancelled with other sailings being operated by MV Finlaggan.

Among the cancelled sailings was the 7am from Kennacraig to Port Ellen, which is dominated by freight and workers coming into the island.

One Islay user said: This disruption as presently notified removes the core timetable from the Islay route for tomorrow. 

"The Covid pandemic was unforeseen in many ways - but a pandemic wasn’t - but the un-olding of actions demonstrated a lamentable lack of contingency planning as does today’s un-folding saga by Calmac."

CalMac said they were also no longer able to operate a double return timetabled sailings between Mallaig on the west coast of the Highlands and Lochboisdale on Thursday.

The 2pm service departing leaving South Uist community and the 6pm trip departing Mallaig are cancelled for tomorrow. And the 5.45am leaving Lochboisdale and the 9.55am departing Mallaig have been delayed by nearly four hours CalMac said it was unable to offer an alternative route and the morning sailing to and from Lochboisdale was full.


It further warned users that the 9.55am service departing Armadale was full and there was no space for those waiting in standby queues.

It said those arriving at Armadale would not be given space on the vessel as it had reached it’s capacity.

CalMac said: "Cancelling a sailing is a decision we do not take lightly because we know it will inconvenience our customers and the communities we serve. We apologise for any inconvenience caused."

Robbie Drummond, manaing director of CalMac, said: "Due to a fault with MV Hebrides CO2 firefighting system we have had to remove the vessel from service. As this is a safety matter we are unable to have the vessel in service until this issue is fixed. We are investigating contingency plans just now and these will be announced as soon as possible.”

Last week the vessel, was evacuated and grounded in the wake of a bomb scare.

Police confirmed that a suspicious package had been reported on the vessel just before 5pm on July 21.

It is understood surrounding boats in the harbour at Uig were also evacuated.

Later that evening Police Scotland issued a statement saying that the alert had been called off after enquiries concluded that the package was not suspicious.

A spokesperson said the alarm had been raised with good intent.

On Tuesday there was expected to be a review over what services can be fulfilled once the vessel’s crew has been able to seek advice from a specialist contractor and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which oversees vessel safety.

MV Hebrides, which 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.

It means that Glen Sannox will now be five years late and will not see service till between March and May 2023 at the earliest, while Hull 802 is not due to set sail till between October and December 2023.

Finlay MacRae, head of operations at CalMac said on Tuesday: "All affected passengers are being contacted and advised to travel via Lochboisdale or Ullapool, although space is limited as we are at a peak demand period of the summer. This situation is difficult and inconvenient for our customers and we apologise to everyone affected and will do our best to find alternative options where these exist."