SCOTLAND’S state ferry operator has been dubbed “divorced from reality” after describing itself as reliable, special and heroic despite a litany of recent problems.

Opposition parties said many customers would be baffled by CalMac’s high self-regard.

The company makes the boasts in a new tender document in which it seeks help advertising its services under a “brand transformation”.

The firm, which is ultimately owned by Scottish ministers, has been plagued with hold-ups on lifeline services all summer.

In the last month alone, staff shortages and breakdowns have seen cancellations affecting Arran, Coll, Colonsay, Islay, Mull, Skye, Tiree, and the Outer Hebrides.

Islanders relying on CalMac for tourist trade and getting to funerals and hospital appointments said at the weekend the problems were making their lives a “nightmare”

Joe Reade, chair of Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said there was a “chronic issue” with a lack of space, and not enough capacity in the system to handle breakdowns.

But in its own paperwork, CalMac told would-be suppliers that it ran “a high-quality service, which is safe, reliable and affordable, focusing on customers’ needs and comfort”.

With 34 vessels on 50 routes, CalMac is the UK’s biggest ferry operator, carrying more than 5m passengers and 1m vehicles a year.

However many of the boats, which are owned and supplied by another state-firm, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited are nearing the end of their service life.

The tender document, which shows CalMac plans to spend £100,000 on advertising firms, reveals it “recently engaged with a brand specialist to define its brand story”.

Although its customers largely need ferries that run on time, it said: “We re-discovered what makes us special, defined what we do, how we do it and fundamentally why.”

Harking back to the company’s origins in Victorian-era shipping, the document went on: “We will not idly drift into the future. We will build on our good reputation.

“Through delivery of our ambitious agenda, we will create an exemplar ferry company which showcases our strengths and all that we are capable of.

“We will lead our industry, reconnect with our customers around a shared agenda, create a culture of internal unity and cohesion amongst our people, and generate measured commercial and economic impact that benefits the communities we serve.

“The story of Caledonian MacBrayne and CalMac Ferries is one of a confident and heroic journey forward, into the future, to a special place again in the hearts and minds of our own people and those we serve.

“The new retelling of our brand story gives us permission to evolve our assets, aspects and communications to align them with the next chapter in our journey.

“It is with our ambition, expertise, experience and energies that we will write the next heroic chapter in our enduring maritime journey.”

It added it was “committed to the highest management standards and aims to be acknowledged as the leading ferry company in the UK, providing value for money, supporting the economy and protecting the environment.”

Scottish Tory Transport spokesman Graham Simpson said: “This is as divorced from reality as you can possibly get.

“Passengers who have had to put up with old, creaking, delayed and cancelled ferries won’t recognise a word of this. The SNP Government needs to curb this PR spin and stress to CalMac to focus on the day job.”

Scottish Labour’s Islands spokesperson Rhoda Grant added: “These comments will raise some eyebrows among islanders.

“Thanks to the SNP’s chronic incompetence, CalMac’s reputation has aged about as well as Scotland’s ferry fleet in recent years. A high-quality service only matters if you can use that service in the first place – but for many passengers years of breakdowns and overcrowding have made this impossible.

“CalMac need to face the reality of how badly things have gone wrong, and demand action to fix the mess the SNP have made of these lifeline services.”

A spokesperson for CalMac Ferries said: “We work hard to provide a reliable and safe service to our customers but recognise this is not always possible due to factors such as Covid, technical issues and poor weather.

“Passengers are our top priority and we endeavour to provide them with the best service possible.

“Despite having an ageing fleet, an average of 95% or our sailings go ahead according to the timetable thanks to the dedication and professionalism of CalMac staff.”