Comhairle Calls for CalMac to Understand Hardship

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has repeated the call for Calmac Ferries Limited to completely overhaul their approach to securing lifeline services when vessels are withdrawn for technical failures. 

A combination of poor weather and technical faults on regular ferry MV Isle of Lewis have left the people of Barra facing a week without a service on their lifeline ferry route to Oban.  

The reality of empty shelves in the island’s shops and fresh seafood not being sent to mainland and continental markets places a huge strain on everyone in Barra. Yet the ferry company’s mainland based senior management have no plan in place to prevent such an outcome.  Instead of ensuring that bread and milk are on the shelves in Castlebay Coop the company have again allowed this very situation to unfold with no service to Barra since Thursday 5th December.

Island representatives and the business community have suggested a range of vessel redeployment options that were available to ensure some level of service was provided to get essential supplies to Barra this week when MV Isle of Lewis was withdrawn from service due to a technical fault. CalMac have ignored every suggestion favouring continuity of service elsewhere to providing a lifeline to Barra. 

Chairman of Transportation Cllr Uisdean Robertson, said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will be writing to Ministers and CalMac’s Managing Director demanding action to ensure our residents in Barra are never again left isolated like they have been this week.  The challenges CalMac face from an ageing fleet and winter weather are well understood by the Comhairle. The loss of any ferry service has a serious impact on an island but there are other islands with multiple services to the mainland each day and some even have more than one ferry route to the mainland so a removal of a vessel would undeniably have a less severe impact.  Instead CalMac have chosen inaction and no service at all on their longest and most exposed route to Barra while service is maintained elsewhere.” 

A week of no ferry service is simply unacceptable in this day and age and it is intolerable that a company entrusted to provide a lifeline service would allow this to happen when alternatives to this are available by redeploying vessels from other routes. CalMac must have a published plan that sets out how they will respond to vessel breakdown. There should be a maximum period of time that any island is left without service to avoid the situation of ever being left with no lifeline service for a week.”

Comhairle Leader, Roddie Mackay, added that the impact on the public in Barra was very real and there were also impacts on businesses who rely on a decent ferry service. “On a recent visit to Barra with Councillor Robertson I met with one of the key employers on the island, Barra Atlantic. This is a company which is a key economic driver on Barra and who have been bold and innovative in growing their business over the years. It is no exaggeration to say that ongoing failures in the ferry service undermine the business. Their need to get goods to market is time critical and it is simply unacceptable to be faced with such an unreliable service.”