MINISTERS are considering provision of a resilience fund as concerns rise about a decision that will leave no ferries running from the mainland to South Uist for several weeks due to a vessel shortage.

Transport minister Kevin Stewart has been asked by a business group in Lochboisdale on South Uist about a compensation scheme to help the island get over the disruption.

It comes after Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac announced updates to routes across its network and apologised to customers for the disruption.

It said ongoing delays in dry dock and technical issues affecting several major vessels means it has had to impose changes to ensure services continue to be delivered.

Three of the ageing fleet, MV Caledonian Isles, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Clansman remain out of action as the summer timetable from April 1 looms, after weeks on the sidelines for repairs.

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CalMac said services between Mallaig/Oban and Lochboisdale on South Uist will be cancelled between April 5 and May 13.

This is due to the need to redeploy vessels elsewhere on the network while it continues to manage the delays experienced in vessel overhaul and additional technical issues within the fleet.

Additional daily services to the Sound of Barra will be available to provide a connection for Uist traffic.

Mr Stewart has said that of the compensation scheme that he would "need to consider this further".

Mr Stewart has been quizzed in the Scottish Parliament by Scottish shadow transport minister Graham Simpson about the action being taken to resolve the crisis.

The Herald:

He said: "Transport Scotland met with CalMac earlier [on Thursday] and they confirmed they are doing everything possible to bring vessels back into service and minimise the period that [route] is out of service.

"We recognise the real challenges being faced and regret the disruption that this is causing to island communities and of course island businesses. It is however important to note that islands remain open for business and CalMac are highlighting where there is capacity on secondary routes.

Mr Simpson said the minister had "inherited a disaster" and asked if he would commit to a compensation scheme for islanders and reduced fares for those ferries they can actually used.

"He's only minutes into the role but he's not off to a good start. His answer will be of no comfort to islanders who will be without a ferry service to the mainland for five weeks.

"CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond calls it a challenging period which could go on for two years. It's worse than challenging. It's disastrous. So with the holiday period looming, what will the minister be doing on his break to sort this out?"

Mr Stewart said he would be meeting CalMac further on Thursday afternoon to try to resolve issues.

The Herald: MV Caledonian Isles James Watt Dock.

Out of action: MV Caledonian Isles

"While the announcement by CalMac of this change has come as a shock to many, including the government, we need to ensure that communication is right between CalMac and our island communities too. I will be seeking solutions so that our island communities can get back to the normality that there should have in these regards."

He added: "Our primary focus has to be in restoring services to minimise impact on business in the first place."

He said: "Scottish ministers need assurance from CalMac that this measure has been taken with full consideration to capacity and volumes on alternative routes.

"It is however important to note that CalMac have increased operations on the service from escape to data and there are other routes that enable people to reach sites used so that people know the island remains open for business or for car debt capacity may be pressured."
The Scottish Conservatives say minsters should "urgently" conduct an analysis of the impact on businesses of this and said there must be a commitment to a compensation scheme for islanders and reduced fares if the crisis continues.

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SNP colleague Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan said he had been indundated with messages of "despair" from South Uist over the latest cancellations and said the services to the island was "abysmal".  He supported demands for compensation.

The Outer Hebrides island has been badly hit by a series of disruptions because of ferry failures for over a year.

Lochboisdale, the port which links South Uist to the mainland was 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, 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.

In August, islanders complained that shops had to ration essential items amid widespread ferry cancellations.

It all comes just two days a island ferry service had to be suspended after an engine failure with a CalMac vessels that was due to be phased out.

Mr Drummond warned earlier this month that the next one or two years “will be challenging” due to the age of the country’s fleet.

There are four ferries being built in Turkey, along with Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802, which have faced major delays and cost overruns during construction at the Scottish Government-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow.

People travelling to and from Arran are among those who have faced disruption due to the ageing ferry fleet and the need for maintenance and repairs and are currently running on a one instead of two ferry services.

The ferry operator said MV Caledonian Isles, which normally operates the route from Ardrossan to Brodick, is expected to return to service from April 13 operating a single vessel timetable.

The Herald:

Flashback to August 2022 when South Uist was hit yet again by ferry disruption

The service is scheduled to return to a two-vessel, summer timetable from May 5, with MV Caledonian Isles and MV Isle of Arran.

Elsewhere, MV Finlaggan, which is currently operating a single vessel timetable between Islay and Kennacraig, will depart on April 9 to undergo her delayed overhaul period.

A two-vessel service will operate between Islay-Kennacraig from April 9 to April 13, using MV Isle of Mull and MV Hebridean Isles.

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MV Isle of Arran and MV Hebridean Isles will then be scheduled to run a two-vessel service from April 14 to May 3.

From May 4, MV Finlaggan will re-enter service, and together with the MV Hebridean Isles will operate the full summer timetable from that date.

MV Hebridean Isles has re-entered dry dock in Birkenhead after last week’s sea trials which identified a rudder fault, and will be deployed to the Islay service once trials are successfully completed.