Ferry Cancellations 17th/18th November

Long post alert! 

Last Saturday night CalMac cancelled the 21:45 sailing out of Oban, and the 06:45 out of Craignure, in what to most people appeared to be good conditions. The forecast was for wind speeds of 7mph, gusting to 10mph from the East. This prompted lots of complaints on Facebook, Twitter, by email and direct to CalMac. We wrote lots of emails and made lots of phone calls ourselves, because it certainly seemed to be a clear case of the ferry not attempting to sail when it could have. Lots of people had to come home early from Oban, and others had to spend an unexpected night on the mainland when conditions were far from stormy.

Such were the complaints that CalMac sent their Marine Manager to Oban to investigate the circumstances, and this evening we received the report below from the Area Operations Manager. We’re publishing it here so that you can read it in full. What seems clear is that the age, size and condition of Craignure Pier is a big factor. It seems that the Ship’s Masters have difficulty berthing there overnight in an Easterly wind, and the fragility of the pier is such that they are worried about damaging it. It is too small; it is poorly lit; and the fendering is not in great condition (we know separately that fender repairs have been waiting for two years).

We are preparing our response to the STAG report that was recently completed, looking at options for the interim improvement and long-term replacement of Craignure Pier. This weekend’s incident is a good example of why Argyll & Bute Council urgently need to commit resources to our essential pier. It is an argument we will be making strongly in our response to the STAG.

Please do comment if you would like to add anything.

Dear Elizabeth
As discussed I had promised to give you a review of events that led to service cancellation Saturday 17th November when the 21:45 from Oban was cancelled due to weather, from a marine manager who visited the vessel and reviewed the circumstances,;

Core issue was wind speed and direction forecast and getting berthed safely as the evening progressed from 17:00 onwards which precluded further service after the 16:00 departure from Oban. Permutations for alternative service options discussed, but due to forecasted wind direction and speed this was ruled out, as if it had been possible the service would have operated then the vessel returned to Oban as she could not overnight at Craignure, but getting berthed in the first place was the challenge. Thereby the decision was made to cancel and give service users as much time as possible to get the 16:00 service where they could.
• There were no mechanical issues.
• There were no crewing issues which mean the vessel had to stay in Oban.
• The Master of the vessel is a regular master on the service and is very aware of the particulars of ship, pier and localised weather.
Core issue
1. Berthing in Craignure with a SE’ly wind.

With a SE’ly wind prevalent, the Master of the Isle of Mull will approach the berth on an NW’ly track with the wind directly astern. He will then pass the end of the pier on this heading, taking the stern of the vessel close in to the dolphin to allow the crew to get stern lines ashore first. The reason for this is the crew can then control the stern of the vessel on the winches, and keep the stern close in to the pier whilst the Master screws the vessel round to lie parallel with the pier using the bow thruster. 
As the Master screws the vessel round on to the pier, the weight on the mooring lines aft must be controlled and heaved in / paid out as required on the winches. This is normal practice during a berthing evolution, but doing this in the dark with a strong SE’ly wind will introduce further risk if the crew are not able to see the lines or the aspect of the ship changes quickly.

Secondary issue requiring berth being attained – as previously documented discussed, the pier is not being good for an overnight berth in certain combinations of weather in the winter, of which Saturday was the first of this winter, which precluded overnight berthing

2. Lying alongside overnight Craignure Pier with a SE’ly wind.

When the Isle of Mull intends to lay over alongside in Craignure, once she has discharged her cargo, it is then necessary for the vessel to close up for the evening and fall back about 30ft from the linkspan. During a normal tie up alongside Craignure, the stern of the vessel overhangs the end of the pier and the leads (angle of the ropes to the shore) are not ideal. The ideal lead for a breast line to the shore is 90 degrees to the ship, which gives the maximum holding strength of that particular line. 
When the Isle of Mull has pulled back 30ft from the linkspan, the stern of the vessel overhangs the end of the pier even more and the leads are significantly worse. These poor leads and the long overhang in a strong SE’ly wind give concern to the Master for overnight berthing as there is the potential for lines to part and the vessel to be blown off the berth.

I trust this goes somewhat to addressing concerns that the service was cancelled for any other reason than local weather conditions and the safe berthing, and overnighting at Craignure on this occasion. As you will be aware there are a number of factors in a decision making and no two events are identical, and at all times our Masters will make safety and care of people their priority at all times, and no less maintain the integrity of the vessel and critical shore infrastructure at all times.

Kind regards,


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