No date has yet been set for the continued use of a £1m-a-month 'emergency' ferry MV Alfred to try and ease the effect of the nation's ferry fiasco.

It comes as MV Alfred owners Pentland Ferries has said that issues found after berthing trials mean the vessel cannot yet enter service.

It emerged there are no bookings available to and from Orkney for over two weeks after MV Alfred's sister vessel ran aground on Orkney.

Ministers confirmed there was a possibility that MV Alfred may return to Orkney - even though they say there is no contractual obligation.

While trials to test MV Alfred on certain west coast ports have been completed, CalMac has said there are "no details of a confirmed deployment yet".

And Pentland Ferries has now said that issues found after berthing trials mean the vessel cannot yet enter service.

The ferry company is now conducting a service of hydraulic systems.

"During this period of downtime CalMac are making minor amendments to the stern door to ready the vessel for service.  An update on when works will be complete, allowing the charter to recommence, will be issued on Monday," a spokesman said.

Questions over whether MV Alfred will be able to continue to support island services run by Scottish Government-owned CalMac off the west coast of Scotland after ministers chartered it for nine months at a cost of £9m have come after Pentland Ferries' sister vessel MV Pentalina ran aground at St Margaret's Hope in Orkney with 60 passengers on board at the weekend.

READ MORE: 'Catastrophic': Island 'inaccessible' claim after  70 per cent ferry fare rise

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.

The Herald: MV Alfred docks at Ardrossan during the trial

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.

Now it has been further delayed.

Pauline Blackshaw, director of operational planning for CalMac, said: “It is disappointing that MV Alfred is currently unavailable for service while Pentland Ferries conducts essential works to the hydraulic systems. CalMac are today completing minor works to the stern door to enable the vessel to be deployed as soon as she is available.”

Ferry operator NorthLink has added an extra service to its Sunday timetable following the grounding of the Pentalina last weekend Every Sunday from May 7 to June 25, Northlink will run an additional return crossing between Stromness on Orkney and Scrabster on the mainland.

Stuart Garrett, Serco’s managing director for NorthLink Ferries, said: “We hope the additional round trip we’ve introduced will help those whose travel plans have been affected to reach their destination safely.

“We are in close contact with the local community and Scottish Government and will continue discussions around how we can support travel on this route.

“Regrettably, adding this additional resilience does mean that we’ve no choice but to cancel the Orkney Nature Festival cruise around Hoy, which was scheduled to take place on May 14.

“We have advised RSPB and we will be in touch with customers directly.”

READ MORE: MV Pentalina: Kevin Stewart says probe must look at safety award

Two weeks ago MV Pentalina, which was being considered for use by CalMac 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: Transport minister Kevin Stewart and (right) a CalMac vessel sets sail

Transport minister Kevin Stewart has said that while there is nothing in the charter contract that allows MV Alfred to be recalled, he has admitted that it could happen.

He said consideration would be given first to adding a fourth daily sailing on NorthLink's Stromness to Scrabster route.

Neither CalMac or Pentland Ferries has commented on the possibility that MV Alfred could be recalled - even though it is known that user groups have been told the Scottish Government-owned ferry operator has exclusive use of the vessel for the duration of the charter.

Pentland Ferries has been using either Pentalina and Alfred to sail across the Pentland Firth from Gills Bay in Caithness to St Margaret's Hope on the Orkney Islands.

Bookings to and from Gills Bay and St Margaret's Hope were not available until May 22, when checked on Friday evening. After the crash, Pentland Ferries stated all sailings were cancelled until further notice.

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

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".

Video: MV Pentalina on trials berthing in Oban in 2021 when it was being considered as a support vessel.

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.

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

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The terms and conditions of the charter are a commercial matter between CalMac and Pentland Ferries, but there is no recall clause within the terms of the contract which was a commercial decision by Pentland Ferries as part of its discussions with CalMac.”