Comhairle Offers Strategic Direction for Lifeline Ferry Services

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar wrote to the First Minister on Monday regarding the need for Government to prioritise lifelines ferry services to the islands.

In an effort to offer strategic direction for the lifeline ferry services that CalMac Ferries Ltd operate to the islands, the letter from Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay and Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, Cllr Uisdean Robertson, requested that the following measures be taken forward on the basis of a manifesto for change.

Short Term (Now – 2022) 

Charter MV Pentalina to operate the Craignure to Oban service and release MV Coruisk to return to providing the service from Mallaig – Armadale.  This will free up MV Lord of the Isles to provide a dedicated service to South Uist operating an island based service that better connects with rail services to Glasgow and increases frequency across the week. Solution can be delivered within 4 – 5 weeks of a charter agreement being reached.

Charter a freighter to provide the overnight freight service to Stornoway releasing MV Loch Seaforth to operate three return services each day. Solution can be delivered within 4 – 5 weeks of a charter agreement being reached.

Increase the frequency of the late Friday evening sailings between Lochmaddy and Uig for the entire peak season timetable.  These sailings should also be marketed to freight traffic through the offer of the same 10% discount that is offered on the freight sailing from Stornoway to Ullapool.  Solution will be subject to increased crewing costs but could be delivered within 6 weeks of Ministerial approval.

Ministers to approve the purchase of the new Catamaran identified by Mull and Iona Ferry Committee to provide a long term solution to the Mull service ensuring MV Lord of the Isles remains dedicated to South Uist service. Solution can be delivered by 2022.

Deploy MV Loch Bhrusda as second ferry on the Sound of Harris Service from July to October.

Solution can be delivered by July 2021.

Medium Term (2023 – 2028) 

On delivery of Vessel 802 into service the opportunity should be taken to provide a dedicated vessel on each Little Minch crossing.  The North Uist service to be operated by an open deck ferry suitable for the busy freight flow on that route. The shared vessel operation would be reinstated during winter months freeing the Harris ferry to provide drydock relief cover throughout the network. Solution is subject to delivery by Ferguson (Port Glasgow Ltd) of the 802 which is estimated as being in service early in 2023.

Replace MV Lord of the Isles, which has been in service since 1989, with a new ferry purpose built for the Lochboisdale service. Solution can be delivered (based on timescales for the new Islay ferry) by 2024. 

Replace MV Isle of Lewis, which has been in service since 1995, with a new ferry of open deck design on the Barra service. Solution could be delivered through network wide vessel re-deployment in 2023 with the arrival of new tonnage elsewhere or by 2025 if the vessel were to be replaced after 30 years in service.

Replace MV Loch Alainn with a larger open water design vessel at the end of her 30 year working life. Solution to be delivered by 2027.

Replace MV Loch Portain on the Sound of Harris service with a new ferry(ies) of open water design to address constrained capacity.  Re-deploy MV Loch Portain elsewhere or retain as second ferry on the route. Solution to be delivered by 2026 (at which point MV Loch Bhrusda would be 30 years in service).

The letter also stated that a meeting with the Comhairle should be a priority for whichever Minister will be responsible for ferry services and asked that this be arranged within days of that appointment being made.