Yet another day of breakdown disruptions – but there is a ferry available right now that could help.

Last year the Pentalina – the catamaran owned by Pentland Ferries that was replaced by their new vessel the Alfred – was trialled around the network as a prospective charter vessel. Pentland withdrew the vessel however, after behaviour by the main maritime unions that PF perceived as intimidating.

The trials proved the Pentalina could operate to many West Coast ports, and she would have delivered great improvements to Mull and Arran. The collapse of that charter subsequently prompted the government to buy the Loch Frisa.

The Pentalina is still available however, and could be purchased within weeks if there was a will to do so. We have written to Transport Scotland urging them look at the Pentalina urgently. You can read our email below:


To the head of the Ferries Unit, Transport Scotland,

Here’s the picture of ferry services around Mull today:

  • All Craignure-Oban sailings between 08:15 and 18:40 both today and tomorrow have been cancelled, so that the Lord of the Isles can be taken out of service for repairs. This disruption is likely to continue into Monday.
  • The Loch Buie serving Iona went out of service yesterday, and seems likely to need an un-scheduled dry-docking. Iona have been without service since 10am yesterday, whilst they wait for a replacement vessel to arrive.
  • All services between Tobermory and Kilchoan have been cancelled, whilst the Loch Linnhe is re-deployed to Iona to cover for the broken Loch Buie. This may continue for a number of days.
  • On the Fishnish-Lochaline service (the only one of our three routes to the mainland currently operating), the usual vessel has been replaced by the much smaller Loch Tarbert, which due to ramp geometry and low deadweight capacity, is unable to carry commercial vehicles. This will continue until the Lochinvar returns from dry-dock.

When we have asked about the Pentalina, we have simply been told that ‘we will not be buying it’, with no further elaboration.

  • We know that the Pentalina can fit the berths at Ardrossan, Brodick, Oban, Craignure, Ullapool and Stornoway.
  • We know that the Pentalina is fully certified for operation in Scottish waters, and a very sea-worthy vessel.
  • We know that the Pentalina is available for sale now.

Government and Transport Scotland need to realise that the collapse of reliability in the ferry service is a crisis, and needs to be treated as such. As far as we understand it, there has not been any discussion between TS/CMAL and Pentland Ferries around purchasing the Pentalina. None. We have to assume that the reticence to purchase her is based around a value-for-money argument regarding her condition and any works required. Or perhaps it reflects the same dogmatic refusal to bring catamarans into the fleet that we experienced with the Indonesian catamaran affair.

However, if no dialogue has been initiated with Pentland Ferries regarding the purchase price of the Pentalina, how is it possible to come to any conclusion regarding value for money? The Pentalina is younger than ALL major vessels in the CalMac fleet, save for the Finlaggan and Loch Seaforth. This is not some ancient crock on its last legs. It’s a very capable and youthful vessel that has a proven track record of reliably operating one of the most exposed ferry routes in the UK. It has double the car capacity of the recently purchased Loch Frisa, and certification for ALL routes (rather than just the Clyde and Mull), and is likely to cost far LESS than the Loch Frisa.

If introduced, the Pentalina could immediately replace the Isle of Arran on the Ardrossan-Brodick route, creating a spare vessel that can operate on any major route. CalMac would immediately have the versatile spare that they desperately need, and for which there is no prospect of delivering until 801 makes it out of the Clyde.  

Has any detailed assessment of the modifications and renewals required to bring the Pentalina into service been undertaken?

Has any detailed negotiation of the purchase price (in the context of those anticipated renewals) been begun with Pentland Ferries?

When the ferry service is in such crisis, there is no space for dogma, and no excuse for not fully exploring each and every opportunity to alleviate it. To leave such an opportunity un-explored in these circumstances is completely unacceptable.

With best regards

Joe Reade, Chair.

1 thought on “Yet another day of breakdown disruptions – but there is a ferry available right now that could help.

  1. It simply does beg belief. I feel your continued frustration. Many thanks again for all the hard work from all the committee.

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