STATE-OWNED Calmac's ageing ferry fleet is being hit by an average of 17 faults leading to service disruption every month as the number of vessel issues has doubled in four years.

Between August 2017 and July 2018 there were 103 faults and that rose to 113 in over the same period in 2018 and 2019 and to 148 in the post-Covid period between August 2020 to July 2021.

Official figures from CalMac show that between August last year and July this year the number of technical issues that led to ferry delays rose to 212.

It comes as the the Scottish Government-controlled firm amassed twice as much in performance fines over its running of west coast ferry services in the last year than in its first nine years in charge.

The ferry operator has amassed nearly £10m in fines since 2007 and nearly £8m in penalties has come since it kept the contract just over five years ago.

Some £4.454m in penalties has been incurred in the 20 months to June this year.

Before CalMac Ferries Ltd, a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, took the £1bn eight-year contract under competition from the services company Secro, the penalties over nine years to September, 2016 amounted to just £1.36m.

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CalMac is set to get a record amount of fines for the latest full year - having incurred £2.310m in penalties in the eight months to June, 2022 alone.

New figures have revealed that the vessels providing lifeline services were hit hit with 682 technical faults over a five-year period between August 2017 and July this year.

The Gourock to Dunoon route, one of the busiest in Scotland, was the most frequently hit service with 104 faults leading causing ferry delays over the five years since August, 2017. The worst ferry for faults was the Argyll Flyer on the Gourock to Dunoon crossing with 52 faults.

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We recognise that disruption to services due to breakdowns and technical faults is extremely challenging for local communities, and we sincerely apologise to those affected when this happens. We strive to provide a reliable and high- quality lifeline service to customers, so disrupting a sailing is always a last resort.

“Global supply chain issues are making it more challenging to carry out necessary maintenance and repairs, but despite this, we continue to invest record sums in our fleet to maintain vessel resilience and service. This investment has increased by around 70% over five years from £20.5m in 2017 to £34.1m in 2021.

“Preventative measures we have recently introduced include setting up a single centre of excellence for spare stock and increasing our capability to carry out defect trend analysis and root cause investigation. A programme of additional inspections and surveys will also be carried out during the forthcoming overhauls season on critical structure and components.”

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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.

And the cost of repairs to ferries run by CalMac has more than tripled in a decade as age has taken its toll.

The state-controlled ferry operator spent more than £28.5m on repairs to their vessels last year, compared with just £9.5m in 2011.

Since the SNP came to power in 2007, the average age of Scotland's lifeline vessels has soared from 17 years to 24 years. Back in 1974 the typical ferry was just 13 years old.

The network issues have come as would-be ferry replacements MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are still languishing in now state-owned Ferguson Marine's shipyard, with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract to nearly £250m. Their official in-service launch is running at least five years late.

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The first ship was meant to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest - five years late. Hull 802, destined for an Outer Hebrides route, has gone the same way. The latest estimated cost for both ships is at least £250m off an original fixed contract price of £97m.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister, Graham Simpson said: “The SNP have completely failed to deliver their promised ferry replacement programme, and this is the result.

“More than a third of CalMac’s ships are already working beyond their expected lifespan, so it’s no wonder that the number of faults seems to be increasing every year.

“Two of the SNP’s promised replacements remain unfinished at Ferguson shipyard, despite being years overdue and millions of pounds over budget – all the while, the age and unreliability of our ferry fleet is taking an ever heavier toll on island residents and communities.

“The SNP must urgently get a grip on this fiasco or island communities will only suffer more and more disruption, as our ferries continue to decline.”

A spokesman said:"That’s why we’ve invested to provide additional capacity on the Clyde and Hebrides routes.”