The communities of Mull and Iona are calling on you to make an emergency intervention to save us from the impact of CalMac’s latest proposed service cuts.
On the afternoon of Friday 5th, (just before the bank holiday weekend) we were informed with 7 days’ notice that for the second half of May our main vessel the MV Isle of Mull would be re-deployed to the Lochboisdale service. Without any prior consultation and with just one week’s notice, our service has been torn up. Since then we have been urging CalMac to come up with some mitigations, but as yet nothing has been forthcoming.
Whilst ways have been found to maintain current service levels to every other Hebridean island, Mull and Iona are alone in having our only major vessel withdrawn and not replaced with a similar capacity vessel. This will result in around 250 fewer car spaces and nearly 7,000 fewer passenger spaces every day. This is being imposed upon us at the same time as our alternative route to the mainland via the Corran ferry is out of action, requiring a detour of up to 120 miles for journeys to the central belt.
We are currently unable to book travel on or off the island via Oban until almost June. Pretty much every sailing is showing as full, and not just for vehicles but for foot passengers also. This is absolutely unprecedented. New timetables have been published, but CalMac’s booking system still displays the incorrect times and some sailings that as currently planned, will not happen at all. CalMac management are no doubt under great pressure, but the handling of this is chaotic.
Our islands are being strangled during the second half of May as a result of this latest deterioration. Islanders cannot leave, unless they made arrangements weeks ago. Tourists, absolutely essential to our economy, will be turned away. Our tour boat operators who depend on day-trippers from Oban will have their business decimated just as the summer season gears up. The Mull Rugby club may have to cancel their main fund-raising event of the year, The Mull Sevens.
Our ferry system is in utter chaos. The Alfred that we hung so much hope on, sits idle in Ayr. With dry-docking extending into the end of June and no sign of the Hebridean Isles re-entering service we have no confidence that at the end of the month the Isle of Mull will be allowed to return. The Coruisk and the Loch Frisa are hopelessly inadequate for the Mull service.
We urge you to convene an emergency meeting with CalMac, and find solutions. Many questions remain unanswered – the Loch Frisa has crew availability to operate 18 hours per day, yet there is currently no plan to take advantage of that. What efforts are being made to charter a passenger vessel from outside the fleet? We are loath to make this an island-against-island issue – but given the Corran ferry outage, is it really equitable that every other service is maintained at the current capacity through May, but Mull has its only major vessel removed?
Meantime, we have no option but to consider rationing ferry space. This is where things have got to now.
For affected businesses across all the islands, it is now time to start compensating for lost business. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into Port Glasgow to keep Ferguson’s afloat, but nothing has yet been offered to all the businesses across the Hebrides who together employ thousands.
We await your urgent response and action.