A THIRD CalMac vessel has been sidelined to passengers as concerns ramp up over 'chaos' hitting the nation's ageing fleet and lifeline services for islanders.

An ongoing issue with 31-year-old MV Loch Dunvegan meant has been removed from service to and from Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute, and a replacement vessel, the oldest in the flee, the  MV Isle of Cumbrae has had to be drafted in.

Issues first surfaced on Wednesday morning and engineers have discovered an issue with the main drive coupling on the main engine that needs repaired.

Concerns have previously been raised about disruption being felt across the network as the depleted ageing fleet is redeployed to try and cope with the loss of both 38-year-old MV Hebridean Isles and 30-year-old MV Caldeonian Isles to passengers.

MV Hebridean Isles first hit problems on Boxing Day and has been on and off service with bow issues while serving passengers to Arran with MV Isle of Arran. It ended up as freight-only service to the island two weeks ago but has been suspended since Wednesday. It is unclear when it will return to providing normal passenger services.

It had been expected to support services to and from Islay with the MV Isle of Arran for an overhaul for two months from this Saturday as part of the rejigging of the network through the state-owned service's programme to improve fleet sustainability through its overhaul programme.

But it appears neither vessel will be able to make it.

CalMac have now decided to cut the Islay service to a single vessel and drafted in MV Finlaggan until February 16. But it was supposed to provide services for a month to and from North Uist through a temporary timetable brought in by the closure of Skye's Uig harbour for essential repairs.


MV Isle of Arran has been serving Arran for weeks on its own because of the issues with Hebridean Isles, cutting the number of available vehicle spaces to about half. It is expected to remain solo till at least February 16.

Meanwhile, issues discovered with engines, including a turbocharger rotor and bearings and steelwork has meant the return to service of MV Caledonian Isles could be delayed for up to five weeks.

The vessel was originally withdrawn from the Ardrossan-Brodick route for annual maintenance.

According to CalMac the overhaul was due to conclude on Friday after being in dry dock for nearly a month with more than £1m of scheduled work being done to the vessel, including engine servicing.

But the inspections uncovered further issues including damage to both engines with the estimate for a return at three to five weeks.

The vessel, which carries 1000 passengers and 110 cars, was out for weeks just last Easter due to an engine failure.

Before the new year a third of the 14 major vessels 35-year-old MV Isle of Mull was found to have suffered hull rust issues and subsequently engine issues and was sidelined for weeks.

It was to emerge from its month-long annual overhaul on December 23 but remained out of action nearly three weeks later.

An economic study commissioned by North Ayrshire Council found that disrupted ferries cost the Isle of Arran up to £170,000 a day in lost revenue to businesses.

One ferry user group official said: "The chaos continues. It is about time that someone in authority woke up to the fact that our ferries are not capable of doing what they should be able to do. If nothing is done when you have three ferries effectively out, then you do have to wonder who is responsible and why heads have not rolled over this nonsense.

"CalMac cannot be expected to deal with this shambles without government intervening."

Some 18 of 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 47-years old.

HeraldScotland: MV Isle of Cumbrae

Two new lifeline ferries Glen Sannox and Hull 802 were due online in the first half of 2018 when Ferguson Marine was under the control of tycoon Jim McColl, with one intitially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but they are at least five years late. The last estimates suggested the costs of delivery were due to soar from £97m to at least £350m.

In 2021 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 nearly 26 years. Back in 1974 the typical ferry was just 13 years old.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "We recognise the importance of ferry services to island communities and the many different challenges islanders face when carrying out their daily lives. This is not just about transport performance in itself. It’s about delivering the confidence needed to sustain island populations.

“There have been ongoing technical issues with vessels resulting in cancellation of sailings. During these periods of disruption, ferry operators prioritise food supplies and as part of the local resilience partnership they remain in contact with local communities and hauliers.

“The Scottish Government has invested more than £2 billion in our ferry services since 2007 and we continue to work towards introducing more capacity and greater resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides network. As part of the islands connectivity plan, we will set out a long-term investment programme for vessels and ports which the Project Neptune report called for and islanders need to see.”