AN Outer Hebrides island hit by a series of disruptions because of ferry failures is to lose a services for 15 days due to a critical safety concern with a port.

Lochboisdale, the port which links South Uist to the mainland is to be out of action to ferries between September 24 and October 8 to allow for repairs to the linkspan used by the ferry.

A routine annual inspection by specialist engineers and Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns the ferry terminal, has revealed a number of lifting ropes on the linkspan which need to be replaced at the earliest opportunity. Last year’s inspections showed no issues.

Loading restrictions have been in place since 16 August in response to these inspection findings. Loading capacity was reduced to 44 tonnes, a standard road-going truck, preventing abnormal and heavy loads using the linkspans.

Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator CalMac said no sailings can operate to and from South Uist's only ferry port while the work is ongoing.

Users are being encouraged to travel to and from Lochmaddy on North Uist - which is 42 miles from Lochboisdale.

CalMac has arranged for two additional daily return sailings between Uig and Tarbert, and three daily return sailings between Uig and Lochmaddy.

CalMac said it considered putting in place additional sailings on Sound of Barra and Harris – but said this is not possible due to crew availability, tidal restrictions, and daylight operating hours.

Robert Morrison, operations director for CalMac, said: “CMAL have informed us that they must carry out essential repairs to the linkspan at Lochboisdale. Unfortunately, we will not be able to operate sailings to and from this port while the work is ongoing.

“These alternative timetables should help customers to complete their planned journeys and we will be contacting booked passengers who will be affected by this period of disruption. We would also like to reassure customers that there are no concerns over capacity or short shipping, and that we will be able to accommodate all displaced traffic.”

It is the latest in a series of disruptions to hit the island's ferry services.

Last month islanders complained that shops had to ration essential items amid widespread ferry cancellations.

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It came after the loss of 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 led to a major disruption with the shutdown for three days of two routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris.

Essential repairs to the 33-year-old MV Lord of the Isles in May saw services hit to and from South Uist ship for a week.

Western Isles local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar reacted with anger then at Uist being left without a service and demanded that action was taken to bring in an alternative ferry.

Earlier this year 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 raised concerns that an “essential services” ferry timetable meant that the Lochboisdale route was the only one across the entire CalMac fleet to be suspended.

That meant adding six hours to the travelling time of a return trip to Glasgow as ferry users have to divert to get the ferry from North Uist and travel to Skye.

It formed a working group on behalf of the community "for both a short-term solution to the current problems and also for long-term improvements".

Monitoring and testing in relation to the new repairs is being conducted this week by specialist inspectors ahead of the replacement work to ensure safe ongoing operation.

CMAL said it is not anticipated that this will affect the services.

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Morven Bridges, head of engineering at CMAL, said: “This is a safety concern and requires a swift response to replace the lifting ropes. Unfortunately, it means we must close the linkspan, impacting ferry services.

“In the run-up to the closure, to ensure the continued safe operation of the linkspan with the new loading restrictions, we will be conducting regular monitoring, tests and inspections, with support from CalMac’s port team.

“We understand islanders will be concerned about the impact on lifeline ferry services. We are working closely with CalMac and our contractor to minimise disruption as far as possible and certainly to ensure there is no delay in the replacement work programme and the linkspan returns to service no later than Saturday, October 8."

The state-owned ferry operator CalMac is having to handle an ageing ferry fleet with new vessels Glen Sannox and Hull 802 still languishing in Port Glasgow as the costs of their construction have soared from the original £97m contract to at least £250m and delivery is over five years late.

Seventeen of CalMac's 35 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 46-years old.