FOR how much longer are we going to have to read about breakdowns and other issues with Scotland’s ferries?

If you have the good fortune to live on the mainland it’s easy to overlook or minimise the problems suffered by those long-suffering island-dwellers – residents and business-owners alike – who are at the sharp end. It’s not difficult to imagine that, if these problems had arisen on the Clyde or the Forth, they would have remedied long before now. The central-belt bias is not good enough.

The catalogue of breakdowns and chaos seems to be without end and promises to stretch ahead of us for months to come. Just this week we have seen one of CalMac’s oldest vessels, MV Isle of Arran, being withdrawn after the discovery of a leak.

As The Herald reported, this resulted in the main Arran service to Brodick being mired in chaos, with users being urged to make substantial detours onto the route to Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig, a clachan on the east coast of the Kintyre peninsula, as an alternative.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator declared yesterday that the Isle of Arran had been repaired and would be returning to service. But for hard-pressed customers it is probably only a matter of time before the service is disrupted again.

People on Arran have understandably had enough. The inconveniences cannot be understated. Many people have to prioritise medical and personal appointments. Business owners, many already struggling in the damaging aftermath of the pandemic, are nursing grievances about lost trade, the unreliable service deterring prospective customers. Would-be tourists might think twice about booking holidays, too.

The incident involving MV Arran came after CalMac’s biggest vessel, MV Loch Seaforth, which operates to and from Stornoway, was sidelined for three days because of engine issues.

CalMac have been praised by Arran people for their “herculean” efforts in keeping a “superannuated” fleet going. The unpredictability, however, is wearing them down.

The problems with an ageing fleet of ferries has also been illustrated in recent days on the Corran service, in the Highlands, after both its vessels broke down. MV Corran is 23 years old and the relief vessel Maid of Glencoul is 48 years old.

Highland Council has been unable to source a relief car ferry, which has fuelled concerns over the ability to deal with emergencies. One hotel owner near Fort William estimates that he will lose around £1,300 a day while the Corran Ferry is out of action until at least the end of May. A shop owner in Acharacle, Ardnamurchan, describes the lack of business as being akin being “back in Covid lockdown”.

What is disappointing – and this is not even taking into account the humiliatingly expensive episode concerning MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 at Ferguson Marine – is the palpable sense of drift, the perception that the plight of islanders is not really a priority.

It is time for the Scottish Government to look at the ferries issue in painstaking detail. Nothing should be off the table, even community ownership of ferry companies. Can Scotland learn anything from Greece, a country that has learned how to establish and maintain an efficient ferry service? Less than two years ago the Greek Shipping Ministry said it would use funds of up to one billion euros on improving the service of 47 ferry lines and covering more than 40 projects designed to upgrade islands’ port infrastructure.

Should we be looking to build more causeways, of the sort that can be seen in the Outer Hebrides? Should we be thinking about deploying catamarans? The £800m scheme to potentially solve the country’s ferry crisis with a fleet of 50 catamarans, revealed last October by the Clyde Catamaran Group, is worth considering.

Anything has to be better than the current situation, which is profoundly unsatisfactory. The chairman of CalMac warned the government as long ago as 2010 that ferry investment had been “slipping behind for decades”, and said that finance was urgently required on a longer-term, regular basis “to just stand still”.

The Scottish Government’s system of ferry procurement, production and delivery has plainly left much to be desired. Fixing it will be formidably expensive, but we have reached the stage where to do nothing, to leave things as they are and hope for the best, is an unpalatable option. Our island communities deserve better. They have suffered for long enough.