MINISTERS have come under new fire after the ferry operator CalMac decided to move a ferry from one of Scotland's busiest lifeline routes to help provide services to two Outer Hebrides links hit by the sidelining of a vessel due to safety issues.

The stricken MV Hebrides, one of CalMac's oldest ferries, is expected be out of action till Sunday at the earliest leaving all services cancelled on two routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris since Tuesday.

The 21-year-old vessel was withdrawn due to another issue with its CO2 firefighting system.

The ferry operator said that the issues were expected to have been resolved last Friday and services were reported to be operating normally on that day.

Issues with the firefighting system first surfaced in mid-June.

The Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator had said in an emergency timetable plan brought in on Tuesday that all options for a relief vessel had been explored and said that vessels across the rest of the CalMac network will remain on their timetabled routes for the current time.

That came after there was an outcry when MV Hebridean Isles was sent from its normal Islay route to assist when the safety issues surfaced last week.

HeraldScotland:

Now CalMac has decided to reshuffle its pack again by moving MV Isle of Mull from the busy Oban to Craignure on Mull route.

The smaller MV Coruisk will reposition to take on some of the Mull demand.

But the disruption has brought about a series of cancellations on other lifeline routes, including Mallaig to Lochboisdale on South Uist and Mallaig to Armadale on Skye.

CalMac said it hoped that MV Isle of Mull would be in action today to help provide a service to the two stricken routes.

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee has lodged a complaint to CalMac and copied to the transport minister Jenny Gilruth about the "huge capacity reduction" in both cars and foot passengers that has emerged "in the busiest week of the year".

He said: "This zero-sum decision demonstrates yet again what an appalling state our ferry service is in. For the fleet to be so stretched and fragile, that this is the necessary ‘solution’ for a breakdown proves once again that there is a complete failure of strategy and delivery from government and its agencies.

"This will have a hugely damaging and disruptive impact on businesses in the busiest week of the year. You have been put in the position of having to portion the damage delivered to each island; of having to find what can be presented as the least-worst outcome. In the process you are pitting island against island. It is simply unacceptable – but we know we have little option but to take it, just as you have little option but to enact it.

HeraldScotland:

"There will be vocal and heart-felt complaints from Mull and Iona as a result of this, and they will be absolutely justified.

"Tour boats cancelling trips at the busiest time of the year; islanders unable to leave; valued tourists unable to get to their destination; supplies un-delivered; appointments missed. We also feel for your frontline staff who will inevitably get the blunt end of frustrated passengers’ ire.

"This also demonstrates yet again how both you and us have been let down shamefully by the dogmatic decision by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited [which owns and procures ferries] to obstruct the purchase of the Indonesian catamaran last year. The cat could easily have operated the Craignure route on her own in winter, and would have given you a real spare vessel in winter."

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We have made every effort to ensure customers booked on MV Hebrides have been able to travel this week where possible. However, we have reached the point today where we must make further changes.

“In order to reinstate sailings on the Skye Triangle routes from Friday, it has become necessary to redeploy some vessels from other routes to help support services in the Western Isles area. MV Lord of the Isles, which was providing additional sailings to the Western Isles, is now out of crew hours, so we now need an alternative solution.

“Therefore, MV Isle of Mull will move from Mull to Lochmaddy while her sailings between Oban and Craignure will be taken over by MV Coruisk. To try and minimise the impact of these changes, we will maximise the number of sailings that MV Loch Frisa can undertake on this route as far as possible. We will also provide a shuttle service on the alternative route to Mull via Lochaline-Fishnish which will boost the number of sailings possible on this route within the limits of crew hours.

“This is a temporary measure until repairs have been completed to MV Hebrides. Work is expected to be completed on Saturday evening and we anticipate she will be back in service on Sunday. While we aim to move all booked traffic, urgent deliveries and medical appointments will be prioritised.

“Moving vessels around is not ideal but without any spare tonnage to use during disruption, it is often the only available option we have to continue to operate lifeline services. I can assure customers that we have looked at all possible alternative options before coming to this decision.

“I am deeply sorry about the effect that the loss of MV Hebrides has had on our passengers and communities.”

MV Hebrides was first removed from service in mid-June due to a problem with its fire-fighting system. Then, a temporary repair which satisfied the ‘appropriate authorities’ gained the ship a short term dispensation to sail.

The vessel, 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.