Frustration with freight and tourism pressure on CalMac ferries in Scotland

The CalMac ferry debacle is preventing island industries from recovering from the coronavirus as freight transport is busier than before the pandemic and disruption of passenger ships threatens the tourism response.

As business picks up in manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, there is a warning of ‘severe pressure’ on all of Scotland’s vital island routes around the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland.

Carriers ask Transport Scotland to sanction deployment of interim freight vessel as arguments stack for another full-time addition to freight fleet and there are already tensions over visitor priority or islanders on passenger ferries, where the largest ship, the MV Loch Seaforth, is under repair and out of service until the end of May.

While the MV Glen Sannox, the first of two new CalMac ferries delayed by the difficult voyage currently undertaken by Ferguson Marine, will be expected next year and proposed replacements for the cargo vessels MV Hildasay and MV Helliar operated by Serco NorthLink in the North Isles, which will accommodate an additional row of trucks on the two decks with a capacity of 86 instead of 68 trailers, has been announced.

READ MORE: Over Half of CalMac’s Lifeline Ferry Fleet Now Has Exceeded Life Expectancy

CalMac said it now plans to charter a ferry to build the resilience of the network and Transport Scotland has said it is developing an ‘Island Connectivity Plan’ which ‘will consider island connectivity more broadly, bringing together the aviation, ferries and landlines, as well as connection and onward travel ”amid calls for a third ship in the north.

Neil Leslie, commercial director of Shetland-based transport company Northwards, said transport was busier now than before the pandemic as the landscape changed against the backdrop of more people buying into line and the reopening of industries restricted by lockdowns.

He said the ferry operators “did a good job last year to keep up with the volumes, but they had no passengers, cars, tourists, motorhomes or caravans. We see that it has already started here, but we also don’t want to disable it.

“For us, the only interim step they could take to make things better is to bring in a third ship, at least from this time of year until the start of winter. Things are busier now than before Covid. ”

READ MORE: CalMac Confirms Fifth Delay on Repair to Biggest Vessel

He said: “We feel very frustrated. In Shetland in particular, this is our only route to market. ”

Emma Clark, from Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative and owner Glenegedale House Islay, said the disruption in ferry service has had an impact on the companies’ return to business.

“The age of the fleet and the poor service are having a ripple effect on our recovery in the tourism sector. We understand that it is not just CalMac, but a united front with Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government and CalMac that needs to work on this. However, there is an urgent need for ships capable of providing a more comprehensive and reliable service to serve our island businesses and community. ”

Planning and allocating spaces for commercial customers in advance means that “CalMac is meeting demand as presented for shipping to ports,” he said.

Robbie Drummond, chief executive of CalMac, said the company is now considering leasing a vessel from Pentland Ferries.

“We are currently exploring with Transport Scotland the possibility of leasing the Pentalina on a long term lease to provide additional resilience across the network,” said Drummond. “The Pentalina was not available to provide coverage during the repair of the MV Loch Seaforth, as it is only available for active service with four weeks notice.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Since 2007 we have invested over £ 2 billion in Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, North Islands ferry services and ferry infrastructure. He said he is “developing a revised stakeholder strategy and already incorporating it into new investment projects”.

Tomorrow: How the pandemic has changed transport activity across the Scottish Isles

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