SHOPS across some Scots islands have been forced to ration essential items amid widespread ferry cancellations due to a broken down vessel, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Residents have complained of food shortages being imposed by local shops with a islanders restricted to just one carton of milk and one loaf of bread during the ferry breakdown.

It is now understood while the Scottish Government has come under increasing fire over a “failure” to deal with the ferries crisis, it is now considering setting up a compensation fund for islands using fines it has imposed on CalMac for underperformance.

The Herald on Sunday revealed that the ferry operator had been secretly hit with £3.5m in performance fines in a year by the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland as concerns rise about the reliability of Scotland’s ageing ferry fleet.

Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator Calmac were forced to make moves to provide an emergency ferry from one of Scotland’s busiest routes to Mull to serve the stricken islands in the Outer Hebrides.

It came as islanders complained to CalMac about food shelves being bare as vital supplies were not reaching shops and evidence of ‘panic buying’.

CalMac have insisted that all food was being shipped and said it was not fair to say that any shortages were the direct result of the ferry issues.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have made a call to recall the Scottish Parliament for an emergency statement over the state of Scotland’s ferries following the Herald’s reporting of the latest crisis.

The issue revolves around the MV Hebrides, one of CalMac’s oldest ferries, which was taken out of service on Tuesday for a third time in a matter of weeks because of an issue with its CO2 firefighting system - which is a safety issue.

It was hoped that the ferry might be back in operation today after its loss led to major disruption with the shutdown for three days of two routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris.

The 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 for a second time the previous week.

But two days later, CalMac decided to reshuffle its pack by moving MV Isle of Mull from the Oban to Craignure on Mull route - one of the busiest - leaving Mull served by the much smaller MV Coruisk.

But yesterday nearly all the sailings on the affected routes remained wiped out despite the move, with just two sailings planned. CalMac said it was down to strong winds.

The latest ferry route lockdown has sparked serious concerns about islands getting the essentials - with some islands, particularly South Uist reliant on a daily lorry crossing to supply shops.

'For god's sake do something': Food rationing fury as islanders blame CalMac ferry cancellations

With reports that some had taken to sleeping in cars because of the ferry meltdown, the North Uist Agricultural Show organisers circulated news on Tuesday that the Hosta Hall would be left open till 7pm for anyone who needs somewhere to shelter. "Toilets, kettle and microwave are available to use," they said.

John Daniel Peteranna of the group, whose South Uist-based renewable energy company supplies wind turbines to make help make homes self-sufficient said: "It is just not sustainable. "Why isn't there an automatic plan in place, so that when a ferry goes off there is another there and you do this and that. If you run your business the way Calmac operate ferries, you would go bust a long time ago, because the customers will say you don't are."

Mr Peteranna of the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group said restrictions on purchase of milk and bread were understandable if people were panic buying because of the ferry issues. And he said it may be that the island will have to look at producing milk locally.

"We have a senior manager from Scottish Water over visiting projects we are working on and struggling to believe this this kind of thing happens in this day and age," he said. "You would think they can just put another ferry on but then they say they can't, just suck it up. "The shops have been bare. There are three main shops, one on South Uist, one in Benbecula and one on North Uist.

"People aren't stupid, they know that there is not ferry and there is usually a daily lorry with fresh stuff. The first thing they do is they better buy two cartons of milk, or two two packs of Lurpak.

"You cannot get more than one carton of milk in each shop.

'For god's sake do something': Food rationing fury as islanders blame CalMac ferry cancellations

"It is the milk and the dairy stuff that is the priority. "There is no milk produced locally. Maybe that is something we should look at as we seem to be isolated from the rest of Scotland. We need to do something different, because the government isn't interested in helping us. Something needs to change."

Another islander Tullula Tia said: "It's shocking. Hardly anything is coming in the shops we are limited to one carton of milk. It's getting worse every year and they are building only one new ferry.

For god's sake do something will you, CalMac.

Abby Coleman added: "This is getting ridiculous, having limited supplies in shops, being limited to one bottle of milk, which sadly is unrealistic for some. I have a baby who is now on cows milk but I’m only able to do my shopping once a week due to having three kids on my own while my partner works. So I buy plenty milk in to last me. But in reality one bottle will not last a baby one week nor would it last a full family same with other foods. "For others that can only do a once-weekly shop how can they when we have no supplies on the islands.

"CalMac need to sort this out because soon enough it will force people to want to leave the islands which is not what the islands are wanting."

Outer Hebrides Tourism, the industry-led group expressed was "dismayed and angry" that there is no end to the ferry crisis causing "extremely serious issue for both tourism and our wider community".

It said: "We have had visitors cancel their holidays, leaving accommodation and activities providers with late cancellations, no fresh food in supermarkets, restaurants struggling to get supplies, visitors sleeping in cars and village halls, visitors re-routed hundreds of miles...and the list goes on.

"The Outer Hebrides is in real risk of being a destination visitors may avoid because of ferry unreliability, indeed we are seeing a drop in visitor numbers already."

It said that while the Scottish Government must invest in the ferry fleet in the short and long term, it must compensate businesses who have suffered impact from the disruption and build confidence in the Outer Hebrides as a visitor destination "after the negative economic impact of this summer's ferry fiasco".

'For god's sake do something': Food rationing fury as islanders blame CalMac ferry cancellations

After transport minister Jenny Gilruth convened a resilience meeting with the local MP, MSP, councillors and other stakeholders Alasdair Allan the SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said the minister agreed to look at whether a compensation scheme can be created from financial performance penalties imposed on CalMac.

"However, the meeting left CalMac and Transport Scotland in no doubt that the current situation is unendurable," he said.

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.

On Friday, as MV Isle of Mull was brought in the North Uist Community Pressure Group tweeted that it was hopeful that vital food supplies would arrive. It complained about the lack a CalMac plan for food deliveries for hotels and shops. The group said on Thursday in a message to CalMac's managing director Robbie Drummond and Ms Gilruth: "Maybe the plan is that without visitors we won’t need many supplies."

Mr Drummond responded: "We are prioritising food deliveries and we’ve shipped everything the local haulier has asked for. We will continue to prioritise urgent deliveries and return the service to full timetable as quickly as we can."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “CalMac forms part of the local resilience partnership. They remain in close local contact with communities and hauliers and are working with them to prioritise the movement of essential supplies.

“This will be closely monitored, with feedback being obtained directly from island communities and local resilience partnerships providing a more rounded assessment of impact than transport operators alone can provide."

The spokesman said an additional sailing was due to set off yesterday (Saturday) evening between Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and Ullapool on the mainland to help move freight.

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “During this latest disruption, we have shipped all the food deliveries we have been asked to take. We prioritise food supplies and nothing has been left on the mainland. Any shortages may be down to supermarket supply chain issues.”