MSPs are to put the failure of Scotland' ferry services under new scrutiny as as CalMac cancellations hit 7,000 in six months.

The SNP Government has been accused of "letting island communities suffer" as new figures show that a total of 7,431 sailings were cancelled by from January to July this year - 275 more than for the whole of 2018.

State-owned CalMac insisted the vast majority of cancellations had been caused by bad weather.

It comes as the Scottish Conservatives have secured a debate on Wednesday to "stand up for island communities, and force the SNP to finally set out a concrete strategy to get a grip of this crisis".

They will accuse the SNP of wreaking ‘lasting damage’ on Scotland’s island communities in an opposition debate in parliament, after increasing breakdowns and faults plagued Scotland’s ferry fleet this summer.

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.

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.

HeraldScotland: The MV Hebridean Isles, which normally serves Islay, is out of action

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.

The Scottish Conservative debate comes after a fault on the MV Hebridean Isles caused disruption across several ferry routes in July and August – and saw some island shops rationing essentials like milk and bread.

SNP ministers have faced severe criticism over the construction of the MV Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed Hull 802 which are due in service next year and is at least five years behind schedule with its costs rising by at least two-and-a-half times.

According to the latest figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Isle of Arran route from Ardrossan to Brodick, which will be serviced by the Glen Sannox vessel, had already experienced 990 cancelled or late sailings in the year up to July 31 2022.

And there have been 302 cancelled or delayed sailing on the Uig route to Tarbert or Lochmaddy, which will be covered by Hull 802.

CalMac have said the challenges to conducting maintenance and repairs are caused by global supply issues.

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: "We take our responsibility to provide a reliable lifeline ferry service very seriously and work hard to avoid any disruption.

"However, the vast majority of cancellations or disruption is due to poor weather, which is out with our control.

"The start of 2022 saw unprecedented and severe weather conditions, including three named storms, which meant that sailings were affected over several weeks.

"Decisions to cancel services are only taken as a last resort and to safeguard the well-being and safety of those on board.

"Given the implications for safety and the legislation in place to ensure safety at sea, weather disruption is not a matter on which we are able to negotiate or consult.

"We are working hard to prevent unscheduled maintenance caused by technical issues, and we have invested record sums in our fleet to maintain vessel resilience and service in order to provide a high-quality service. This investment increased by around 70% over five years from £20.5m in 2017 to £34.1m in 2021.

The Scottish Conservatives warned that the SNP’s failure to procure a reliable ferry fleet risks permanently damaging island communities, by harming the local economy and contributing to population decline.

It is forecast that the Western Isles could see a 20 per cent decline in the working-age population over the next 20 years, with islands in Argyll and Bute also struggling to maintain population levels.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “The SNP wants to know how to stop population decline on our islands – but it is obvious to everyone that at least part of the problem is their failure to deliver essential transport links for island communities.

“The SNP Government has failed to procure desperately-needed replacement ferries and refused to commit adequate long-term funding for Scotland’s ferry provision.

HeraldScotland: Glen Sannox Ferguson Marine, Port Glasgow.

“As a result, breakdowns and delays have sky-rocketed. Now, island residents can’t even trust in supplies of essentials like bread and milk, and tourism and investment has been decimated.

“Meanwhile the two unfinished ferries in Ferguson Marine may never see service as a result of continued faults, despite costs spiralling to £250 million.

“The Ferguson Marine scandal may appear farcical, but the SNP are wreaking lasting damage on Scotland’s island communities with their incompetence.

“The SNP keep hoping that they can bury their heads in the sand, and wait for this scandal to blow over – all the while island residents suffer the consequences. The Scottish Conservatives are bringing a debate on Wednesday to stand up for these communities, and force the SNP to finally set out a concrete strategy to get a grip of this crisis.”

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “The vast majority of CalMac ferries run on time and to schedule but breakdowns and delays are not acceptable. That’s why we’ve invested to provide additional capacity on the Clyde and Hebrides routes. We are also continuing to work on procuring more vessels, while the four new ferries we have ordered are being built.

"The Scottish Government has provided over £2bn of support to our ferry networks since 2007 - there are more vessels and more routes running than ever before.

"Quite evidently the start of 2022 coincided with some of the worst weather impacts on record and COVID-related absences compounded service delivery. In response, Ministers have approved additional finance to support weather monitoring equipment, as announced in the chamber earlier this month."