USERS have complained of detours of up to 180 miles as lifeline ferry services were thrown into a third day of turmoil after a safety issue with an ageing CalMac ferry.

It comes after ferry services on two routes were brought to a standstill on Wednesday after MV Hebrides was removed from service due to technical issues.

Sailings between Uig on the Isle of Skye & Lochmaddy on North Uist and Uig and Tarbert on the Isle of Harris continued to be disrupted yesterday even after the third oldest vessel in the fleet, 37-year-old MV Hebridean Isles was temporarily moved from Islay on Wednesday to help support the lifeline services.

This has had a knock on effect with cancellations experienced on other services including links to Islay which went down to a one-ship service due to a lack of replacement vessels.

Yesterday, motorhome users were warned their ferry journeys could be immediately cancelled as alternative detoured routes to the Uists, using one of CalMac's busiest routes, Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, were being thrown into disarray because of demand.

At mid-afternoon there was no availability to book car journeys from Ullapool to Stornoway until next Wednesday. And there was nothing for the return journey for 12 days.

CalMac warned users that the Ullapool to Stornoway route was "extremely busy" due to disruption elsewhere.

"While we will be prioritising essential supplies on this route over the next few days, we will do our best to ensure that all booked passengers can complete their journeys," said the Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator. 

"However, in order to ensure that there is as much space as possible on board, motorhomes may be subject to cancellation. Anyone affected by this will be contacted as soon as possible."

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A CalMac source said affected passengers would not be expected to go onto the website to look for tickets and that port staff would endeavour to source sailings.

One user has told that his trip from Fort William to North Uist took 19 hours with a 179 mile detour.

"We lost a day of our holiday driving between various ports," said the user on social media. "This all said, the customer-facing staff for CalMac have been brilliant and I feel for them as I'm sure they have had to deal with some irate customers... and it's not their doing "So hats off to them for dealing with everything they have to put up with."

The issue has meant CalMac have introduced temporary timetables because of what it said was a fault with MV Hebrides' CO2 firefighting system.

The fault with the CO2 system on MV Hebrides is a safety issue and means that she cannot legally operate until this is fixed," said CalMac.

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

But the following day the 22-year-old vessel had to be removed from service and moved to Ullapool to undergo repairs, while CalMac said it was investigating contingency plans.

Engineers had hoped that repairs will be completed by today (Friday).

But users of the Islay service have already been told that Friday's 10am and 3.30pm sailings from Kennacraig on the mainland to Port Ellen on the island are already cancelled while the 7am and 12.45pm return trips are also out.

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The 7.20am Friday sailing from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris to Uig on the Isle of Skye was also cancelled as of mid-afternoon yesterday.

Due to the MV Hebrides issues, CalMac carried an extra sailing Isles on Wednesday morning between Armadale on Skye and Lochboisdale on South Uist which had a knock on effect on other lifeline services.

It meant that CalMac were also no longer able to operate a double return timetabled sailings between Mallaig on the west coast of the Highlands and Lochboisdale yesterday.

The 2pm service departing leaving South Uist community and the 6pm trip departing Mallaig were cancelled yesterday. And the 5.45am leaving Lochboisdale and the 9.55am departing Mallaig were 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.

One Islay user described the chaotic timetable as "the moving of pain".

"Islay has has no back door route, unlike Lewis and Harris, the Uists, Barra, Mull and Arran," she said.

"Calmac use a 'prioritization matrix' for disruptions which sounds like 'who do we need to placate the most' rather than what is really required, in other words, robust contingency plans.

"Whatever happens on Friday the Hebridean Isles is effectively a day's sailing away from resuming service to Islay ,and since there is no other route which may be used -unlike between the Uists and Harris and the mainland then the disruption to Islay will be at least as great as they have experienced in the past two days.

CalMac said CO2 fire-fighting gas storage bottles on MV Hebrides were being tested, charged and returned to the vessel on Thursday evening and it was hoped the system would be in service this morning and that it will be ready to commence transit in the afternoon.

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We are very sorry for the impact and difficulties the current disruptions have brought to Islay, Colonsay and the Outer Hebrides as we deal with the unexpected absence of MV Hebrides. Redeploying vessels is always an extremely difficult decision because of the impact it has on our communities but is unfortunately unavoidable in order to maintain lifeline services to all communities.

“Careful consideration is always given to which services will be affected by vessels being moved around and while we fully recognise the impact that this has, we are very limited in the choices we have.

“Our teams on board vessels, at ports, in the contact centre and our operational teams have worked tirelessly to ensure passengers got onto alternative routes this week and will continue to do so until normal service resumes tomorrow. MV Hebridean Isles is leaving Uig at 6am on Friday 29 July and will return to the Islay timetabled service later that day.”