CALMAC have been unable to give assurances of the continued use of a £1m-a-month 'emergency' ferry to try and ease the effect of the nation's ferry fiasco - despite previously stating that they had 'exclusive' use of it.

Questions over whether MV Alfred will be able to support island services off the west coast of Scotland after ministers chartered it for nine months at a cost of £9m have come after its Pentland Ferries sister vessel MV Pentalina ran aground at the weekend.

Smoke was detected in the engine room of the MV Pentalina on Saturday night before it became grounded near the village of St Margaret’s Hope on the island, leading to the evacuation of 60 passengers, including three children and an infant.

Helen Inkster, managing director of operator Pentland Ferries, said all passengers were “safe and well” when they were evacuated, with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) conducting a survey before the Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) are expected on Tuesday.

MV Alfred was due to join the fleet from April 18 but was delayed because Pentland Ferries had previous issues with MV Pentalina - meaning it had to hold the vessel back.

🔴 Save on a full year of digital access with our lowest EVER offer.

Subscribe for the whole year to The Herald for only £24 for unlimited website access or £30 for our digital pack.

This is only available for a limited time so don't miss out.

👉 Click here to subscribe

Two weeks ago MV Pentalina was granted a temporary passenger ship safety certificate (PSSC) by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), allowing it to carry passengers and vehicles.

The Herald: Pentalina - pentland ferries.

Transport minister Kevin Stewart has said there was nothing in the charter contract that allows MV Alfred to be recalled but has admitted it was "something we have to keep an eye on".

CalMac would not comment on the possibility that MV Alfred could be recalled by Pentland Ferries - even though it is known that user groups have been told they have exclusive use of the vessel for the duration of the charter.

Pentland Ferries sails across the Pentland Firth from Gills Bay in Caithness to St Margaret's Hope on the Orkney Islands.

Sailings to and from Gills Bay and St Margaret's Hope were not available until May 8, when checked on Monday evening. After the crash, Pentland Ferries stated all sailings were cancelled until further notice.

Before MV Pentalina returned to service a 'frequently asked questions' notice asked how reliable the vessel was.

The response was: "The vessel has undergone a technical overhaul, including a full service of all four engines and generators. Should we experience any unforeseen technical issues, these will, as always, be dealt with as swiftly as possible, in order to keep the service running smoothly."

MV Alfred is due to complete berthing trials from Tuesday at Campbeltown and Troon. She has already been to Ullapool, Lochmaddy, and Port Askaig.

CalMac said that once the trials have been completed they can then work out which routes she can operate on.

READ MORE: Kevin Stewart under fire for Scots ferries 'not brilliant for islanders' comment

One ferry industry insider said he would be "surprised" if Pentland Ferries had not included a clause that would allow MV Alfred to return in an emergency.

One ferry user group official said it was "baffling" that there was any questions at all about whether MV Alfred would be put to use.

Video of MV Alfred berthing at Brodick for the first time Isle of Arran

He said: "As I have always said, we need the extra capacity and resilience so we can but hope that what has happened to Pentalina won't affect CalMac's use of Alfred."

MV Alfred, which is at the centre of a crash investigation dating back to the summer of last year, is chartered from Pentland Ferries who will operate services on behalf of CalMac.

Concerns have been raised about the expense of the vessel with critics calling it a "panicked decision".

Pentland Ferries staff, who will operate services on behalf of Scottish Government-owned CalMac, bought MV Alfred for £14m in 2019 to operate between Caithness and Orkney.

It was built in Vietnam and can accommodate 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches.

At the time it was described as the "most environmentally-friendly ferry in Scotland".

Under charter, all crew will be provided by Pentland Ferries who will be responsible for delivery of service and the operational, technical and safety management of the vessel, including maintenance, repair, overhaul and provision of crew throughout the charter period.

READ MORE: ScotGov-owned CalMac get £1.6m crew bill for ferries that never sailed

Transport Scotland said the £9m will cover berthing dues, fuel, the commercial charter rate and other undisclosed costs.

The charter came amidst widespread disruption to services because of faults with vessels discovered during the annual overhaul process.

Two years ago a deal to buy a vessel similar in design to MV Alfred for £9m collapsed after the Scottish Government-owned procuring and ferry owning company Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) demanded a foreign firm pay up to £100,000 to pay for modifications that would allow it to gain UK maritime approval for it.

The Herald: MV Alfred, the second catamaran ferry bought by Pentland Ferries, and delivered in 2019. Image credit: Pentland Ferries..

Negotiations had been taking place to secure the Indonesia-built vessel for months but the owners of the catamaran said they believed CMAL were never serious in completing the sale.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator said the primary focus for the use of MV Alfred was to have her available for resilience purposes and provide relief benefits across the network.

MV Alfred was at the centre of controversy when on July 5, it partially ran aground on the Isle of Swona, the more northerly of two islands in the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and Caithness on the Scottish mainland.

RNLI lifeboats were called to evacuate the Vietnam-built – with one person being rushed to hospital with a fractured shoulder.

Dozens more were feared to have suffered mental trauma and physical injuries including fractures, sprains and soft tissue damage.

It emerged that six passengers injured are seeking compensation.

CalMac is said to be UK's largest ferry operator, running 29 routes to over 50 destinations, across 200 miles of Scotland's west coast.

Their fleet of 35 vessels complete approximately 136,000 sailings a year with crossings ranging from five minutes to five and a half hours.