CALLS have been made for emergency ferry provision for longsuffering Uist islanders left without services in the wake of continuing issues with vessel deployment.

Transport minister Kevin Stewart has been accused of rejecting calls for compensation to businesses who it is feared are going to go under in the latest "unprecedented" wave of disruption.

Two of the ageing fleet, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Clansman have remained out of action three weeks after the summer timetable on April 1 began and after months on the sidelines for repairs.

Concerns surfaced over further disruption and cancellations hitting North Uist this weekend as the MV Hebrides heads off for an annual overhaul.

But last night, as the issues were raised with the First Minister,  CalMac confirmed it was holding back on releasing MV Hebrides so that it could continue operating till Monday, April 24, with an amended timetable.

It said that MV Clansman was expected to return to service on Tuesday to replace MV Hebrides.

There had been concern that no vessel had been assigned to cover the vital Skye Triangle route which runs from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy on the North Uist over the weekend until the announcement on Thursday evening.

But ferry deployment issues mean that sailings between the mainland and South Uist remain cancelled on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Services between Mallaig/Oban and Lochboisdale on South Uist had been disrupted since April 5 and were expected to continue till May 13.

But at the start of April CalMac said it would be able to maintain a service to South Uist from Oban until at least April 16. That all changed on Monday in the new wave of cuts to services expected to last till May 12.

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In order to provide a connection for Uist traffic, CalMac said it was also offering additional services to the Sound of Barra.

Stornoway-born Rhoda Grant, the Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands said there needed to be "immediate action to improve the situation regarding ferry services in light of recent reports of unprecedented disruption".

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She said: "That there are no planned ferry services serving the Uist – Skye triangle after this Sunday is unacceptable. People are being left without key lifeline services.

"This Transport Minister has refused to take responsibility for this ferry crisis and refused compensation payments to local businesses that are being forced to the wall by ferry failures. He has tried time and again to pass the blame onto CalMac."

She has now asked the First Minister to put emergency provision in place saying: "We are two days away from Sunday with islanders not knowing how they can get on and off the island."

The First Minister said: "I do recognise the significant impact that delays and disruption does have... and it's regrettably had on our island communities.

"We know that communities, of course, rely on these lifeline services, not just, of course, individuals but businesses too, and I'm committed to investing in our ferry services.

"In the meantime, we'll continue to press CalMac to consider all options to minimise the impact on communities and indeed businesses. The Minister for Transport is engaging very closely on this issue. He has held resilience calls with CalMac, with Transport Scotland, in the light of the latest disruption...."

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He added: "We will consider the issues around compensation and what more we can do to support businesses when there is disruption."

Ms Grant added: "This is a First Minister who has no idea. Like the ageing ferry fleet we have a Scottish Government that is not fit for purpose. It is time for a new Scottish Government."

Uist 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.

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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.