Breakdown cascade to hit Craignure-Oban service.

The MV Isle of Mull is being re-deployed to Uig tomorrow, to cover for the broken-down MV Hebrides. She is likely to stay there until Sunday, or whenever the Hebrides returns to service. The Coruisk will temporarily return to Mull to take up the MV Isle of Mull’s timetable alongside the Loch Frisa.

This will result in a huge capacity reduction (both cars and foot passengers) in the busiest week of the year. We have written to the Managing and Operations Directors of CalMac, copying in Transport Scotland, our MSP and the Transport Minister:

This zero-sum decision demonstrates yet again what an appalling state our ferry service is in. For the fleet to be so stretched and fragile, that this is the necessary ‘solution’ for a breakdown proves once again that there is a complete failure of strategy and delivery from government and its agencies. This will have a hugely damaging and disruptive impact on Muileachs and Mull businesses in the busiest week of the year. You have been put in the position of having to portion the damage delivered to each island; of having to find what can be presented as the least-worst outcome. In the process you are pitting island against island. It is simply unacceptable – but we know we have little option but to take it, just as you have little option but to enact it.

There will be vocal and heart-felt complaints from Mull and Iona as a result of this, and they will be absolutely justified. Tour boats cancelling trips at the busiest time of the year; islanders unable to leave; valued tourists unable to get to their destination; supplies un-delivered; appointments missed. We also feel for your frontline staff who will inevitably get the blunt end of frustrated passengers’ ire.

We are very concerned that this is a demonstration of what having the Loch Frisa as our ‘core’ vessel will mean. Is the main Mull vessel now the fleet spare?

This also demonstrates yet again how both you and us have been let down shamefully by CMAL’s dogmatic decision to obstruct the purchase of the Indonesian catamaran last year. The cat could easily have operated the Craignure route on her own in winter, and would have given you a real spare vessel in winter. She could have operated to any major port in the network rather than being limited to just one; she could have had live-aboard crew cabins if needed, and she would have been both faster and more sea-worthy than the Loch Frisa (designed for a short and sheltered fjord crossing). The decision may be long since taken, but we will keep pressing the point in the hope that lessons will be learned. So far there is no sign of it.

Getting back to the immediate issue –

Can we please ask that everything is done to mitigate for the huge reduction in capacity we will suffer in the next few days:

  1. Positively encourage displaced drivers to use Lochaline-Fishnish ferry instead. Please ensure your call centre staff communicate this.
  2. Have the Lochaline-Fishnish ferry add extra sailings as needed.
  3. Operate the Loch Frisa to the maximum of available crew time and berth availability. With no major vessel on the number one berth in Oban, around 18 hours of operation should be possible?
  4. If there is space on passing Coll, Tiree or Barra services, have them call in Craignure as necessary.

And finally – this must now surely make the chartering or purchase of the Pentalina an essential and urgent priority. We have seen how quickly she was re-certified when there was a desire on the part of Pentland Ferries to get it done. If there was similar desire on the part of government / CMAL / Transport Scotland to give the Hebrides a semi-reliable ferry service, then a purchase or charter would be finalised within days. We are appalled that CMAL continue to refuse the purchase of the Pentalina in such desperate circumstances.  



5 thoughts on “Breakdown cascade to hit Craignure-Oban service.

  1. Lachlan Milligan. 4th August 2022 — 11:20 am

    Very succinctly put. I cannot believe how those in charge of the ferry services have let the Western Isles down.

  2. I’m presently working on the Stornoway Ullapool run where we are the the only ferry that serves 20,000 people….Mull has 3 ferries to the Mainland….with a population of 3,000….if mull people don’t like the situation (which will continue until new Boats are built),there’s an alternative!

    1. Stornoway-Ullapool really should be a 2 vessel service, as was argued by Western Isles Council and others at the time. Ullapool – Stornoway shares with Craignure-Oban the title of ‘most congested CalMac route’. That demonstrates the failure of the ‘one big ferry’ strategy. It’s the newest vessel in the fleet, yet it is already at capacity. Plus of course, if ever there is a breakdown the only option is to borrow a ferry from another route which just multiplies the impact.

  3. So what was the REAL reason behind not using the Pentalina?

  4. Think I have caused enough comments on Facebook tonight
    I don’t want a 5th ferry only a reliable service for users as one person commented we dont seem to have a week without some disruption and going via Lochaline can be a great alternative it depends where you are going and your circumstances

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