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Managing director of ferry operator CalMac said on Saturday that Scotland’s west coast ferry network faces major problems because of its ageing fleet. The situation has got so bad that lifeline services are having to be prioritised for residents on the Isle of Arran.
The shambles led Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene to comment in a tweet: “In the latest development of the Arran #ferryfiasco confirmation that it won’t be back in service until at least May 3rd!”
“The replacement has much less capacity and is ‘turn up and hope’ for cars, with food deliveries being prioritised”.
“The silence from the local SNP is deafening”.
The comment comes as the vessel MV Caledonian Isles has been replaced with the smaller MV Isle of Arran.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Jamie Greene MSP
Gavin Fulton, from Arran Ferry Action Group, said the disruption is making life extremely uncertain for those who depend on the service.
He said: “As of yesterday lunchtime, out of six petrol stations, only one had petrol. Pubs have been running out of beer.”
“More importantly, tourism, which is the lifeblood of Arran’s economy – tourists can’t get a booking on the boat.”
“They don’t know whether they turn up at Ardrossan to be able to get to Arran, and if they do get to Arran, they don’t know if they’ll get back.”
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Seafront houses reflected in calm waters of Lamlash Bay, Isle of Arran
Caladonain MacBrayne ferry the Caledonian Isles sails into Ardrossan Harbour
He told BBC Scotland the issues are not new for Arran, pre-dating the coronavirus pandemic and the controversy surrounding the building of ferries in Port Glasgow.
However, he said that more people are talking about leaving the island, adding that the situation is “intolerable” for those with serious health conditions who need to travel back and forth for hospital appointments.
Mr Fulton urged the Scottish Government to acquire more vessels to boost capacity across the CalMac network.
Mr Drummond apologised to customers, adding the company is doing “absolutely everything” it can to minimise the impact on islanders.
He said: “I appreciate it’s an extremely difficult time for the Isle of Arran, and I apologise again for all of the disruption.”
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“But I can assure you that everyone at CalMac really cares. We’re working extremely hard to bring the service back to full operation, and we’re also doing all we can to minimise the impact in the meantime.”
He added that the amount of money being spent on maintenance has increased by 70 percent in the last five years.
Mr Drummond said: “We’re now spending this year, something like £33 million on maintenance. Five years ago, that was only £21 million.”
Asked why vessels face maintenance issues so often, he said: “We are running an ageing fleet.
“Nearly a third of our vessels are beyond their normal expected lifeline, so we are doing everything we can to keep our fleet going.”
Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd
“What we do need is new vessels, and what we urgently need to see is a long-term plan for replacement vessels and replacement ports, and an accelerated procurement programme that starts to put in place a standard fleet that operates to standard ports.”
“That will make a huge difference running across our network.”
It comes after Scotland’s First Minister said it was “regrettable” that a key decision over a contract for two Ferguson Marine ferries was not recorded properly.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will learn any lessons it needs to about record-keeping, and she is willing to appear before a Holyrood committee to discuss the issue.
Scotland’s auditor general Stephen Boyle expressed frustration that he was unable to review all documents relating to the awarding of the contract, though he said he did not believe the Holyrood was withholding the information.
In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, has been saved from administration by the Scottish Government.
The estimated delivery of the vessels has been pushed back by five years, along with an increase in costs from £97 million to at least £250 million.
The two vessels, Glen Sannox and the as-yet-unnamed hull 802, are now expected to be completed between March and May 2023 and between October and December 2023 respectively.
There has been scrutiny as to why the contract was given to Ferguson Marine without a full refund guarantee, with an Audit Scotland report saying there was “insufficient documentary evidence” to explain this.
The First Minister was asked about the situation at the launch of the SNP local election manifesto in Greenock, near Port Glasgow.
Responding to questions from journalists, she said: “There’s clearly a key point of decision-making that has not been recorded in the way it should have been.
“That is regrettable but there is no cover-up around this.”
Ms Sturgeon said she had not seen the auditor general’s session but she does not believe he had accused the Government of withholding evidence.
The First Minister continued: “That is regrettable, I’m not trying to diminish the importance of that. But anybody can go on to the Scottish Government website and see the sheer quantum of paperwork and recording of decisions around this issue.
“The Public Audit Committee will continue to look at this, if they ask me to give evidence I will do that and I will seek to answer all of their questions to the very best of my ability.”
The SNP has been contacted for comment.