ISLANDERS have accused CalMac of treating them with "utter contempt" as it emerged key ferries have been switched around due to the loss of a port for two weeks due to "critical" safety concerns.

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 the Scottish Government-owned ferry infrastructure owners and procurers Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), 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.

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

Scottish Government-owned CalMac has arranged for two daily return sailings between Uig and Tarbert, and three daily return sailings between Uig and Lochmaddy.

It has emerged that CalMac will shift MV Hebrides, which can carry 612 passengers and 90 cars and which normally operates between Uig on Skye and Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, will now run the trips to Lochmaddy.

Community business group Harris Development Ltd is concerned that the smaller MV Lord of the Isles will now run to Harris without discussion and fears major disruption to services.

CalMac has denied that there will be any reduction in service to Harris.

MV Lord of the Isles, which can carrry up to 56 cars was originally proposed to cover the Lochmaddy route.

In a complaint to Calmac, Kenny Macleod of HDL, whose board is made up of members of the local community, working in a voluntary capacity, supported by advisers from local agencies, the local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Scottish Natural Heritage said: It is with a huge degree of sadness and anger that I am contacting you as, once again, CalMac are treating the people of Harris with complete contempt.

"Despite assurances given in the past and assertions that you do care about us and the service your company seeks to provide, your actions continue to prove those words to be very hollow.

"To find out via the media that you have completely changed the arrangements you had previously intimated (on how you were to provide the ferry services to Uist during the two weeks thaLochboisdale link-span was to be out of action) is unacceptable. That is especially so when it has gone from no impact on Harris to now resulting in a complete change to the published timetable and without a hint of an explanation or warning that this was to happen."

Islanders accuse Calmac of 'utter contempt' over ferry changes as safety issues hit Scots portNone

He said that there were issues with bookings for services to and from Harris with islanders complaining they could not book beyond the end of September and feared it would put people off travelling. CalMac said the issues were confined to Thursday of last week.

And he questioned whether the replacement ferry would be able to use the berth at Tarbert as the pier had been rebuilt, meaning the Hebrides was unable to use its passenger gangway at certain states of tide He said the period Lord of the Isles will be operating from Tarbert coincides with the some of the highest tides of the year which may impact her ability to lie in the port overnight.

He added: “You are going ahead with a totally different plan that has significant impact for Harris. “You are taking our regular ferry away and replacing it with one that has half the capacity of the Hebrides and at the same time are changing the timetable to accommodate three daily sailings from Uig to Lochmaddy."

He told CalMac's chief executive Robbie Drummond that it was the sixth time the summer season has been negatively impacted by issues with the Tarbert to Uig service "resulting in significant losses to the people of Harris and Lewis as well as a a huge amount of disruption to the lives and businesses of the people living here".

Meanwhile concerns continue to be raised on South Uist, with John Peteranna of the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group saying: "I think we will need the Queen's team to run the ferries, as they have a plan in place."

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “The pier at Lochboisdale has been closed by CMAL at short notice for safety reasons, and we have had to move quickly to provide the best alternative service for customers during this period.

“All bookings for Lochmaddy/Tarbert/Uig are now open after being closed off for a short time [on Thursday] so that customers could be moved onto new bookings during the temporary changes.

Islanders accuse Calmac of 'utter contempt' over ferry changes as safety issues hit Scots portGooglemaps

“There are no constraints on capacity either on or off Harris during the Lochboisdale work. Tarbert will actually have more sailings - two dedicated sailings per day for the two-week period compared to the usual 1.5 sailings – all of which go directly to Uig, whereas the Sunday sailing usually goes to Lochmaddy at this time of year.

"There are currently 679 car spaces available from Uig to Tarbert and 563 spaces available from Tarbert to Uig for this timeframe.”