Following our open letter to Transport Minister Kevin Stewart, there has been some movement from CalMac to mitigate for the loss of the Isle of Mull over the next fortnight.
A second vessel is to be deployed on the Fishnish-Lochaline route from Monday 15th. We have pointed out that with the Corran ferry out of action this will be of little benefit, and that if there is a spare Loch-class vessel, it should be deployed between Fishnish or Craignure and Oban.
For the first of the two weeks (Sunday 14th – Saturday 20th) The Isle of Lewis may offer an additional sailing each day, if the weather is fine (she cannot berth in Craignure in anything other than the best weather). These sailings will not be bookable, and there will be no certainty they will operate until close to the time. They will not operate for the second week, because the Isle of Lewis is heading to Ullapool for repair work whilst Castlebay linkspan is closed.
Again only for the first week, additional sailings will be offered by the Isle of Mull as she passes by Craignure on her way to/from Lochboisdale. These sailings are timetabled, but unbookable. They are subject to space being spare, and only available to cars and foot passengers. They will not operate for the second week (May 21st – 27th) because of the extra demands on the Lochboisdale service caused by the Castlebay closure in that same week. You can see the times of these additional sailings here.
Although the Loch Frisa is double-crewed and therefore has the ability to work for at least 18 hours per day, she will be maintaining her current 13 hour schedule. On this, CalMac say:
We investigated the option of increasing the number of direct scheduled sailings on Oban – Craignure with MV Coruisk and MV Loch Frisa, but this will not be possible. This is due to the hours of rest implication for MV Coruisk crew. MV Loch Frisa does have crew which would be able to operate additional sailings on a single vessel service, however there would be berth availability challenges on a two-vessel service, as a shorter operating day on MV Coruisk and needs to be berthed earlier than MV Loch Frisa. Port staff would not be able to safely support additional sailings and we would need to amend existing timetables, which would result in timings and capacities changing on each sailing.
The berthing clashes and hours of work issues CalMac refer to would be fixed if the Frisa and Coruisk swapped roles. Loch Frisa could overnight in Oban (as she did in winter) and could operate additional sailings at each end of the day whilst the Coruisk is laid up on the South side of Craignure pier. Reading between the lines, it sounds very much like the administrative burden caused by the introduction of the new ticketing system at the same time as changing the Craignure-Oban timetable yet again is just too much for Gourock to cope with.
We will keep pressing for further improvement, and can see no operational reason why the Loch Frisa and Coruisk cannot swap roles in week 2 (21 – 27 May), thus allowing the Loch Frisa to operate additional early and late sailings. For the moment however, we just have these few additional unbookable sailings courtesy of the Barra and Lochboisdale services as they pass by Craignure.
And during this service chaos, we have the transition to a new ticketing system. At the time of writing, tickets for Craignure-Oban anytime in the next two weeks cannot be bought, either online or by phone. Not even for foot passengers. We have to assume and hope that come Tuesday morning when Ebooking goes live, some spaces will become available.
We have put CalMac in touch with the owner of a passenger vessel that might be available to charter, but so far this has proven fruitless. CalMac say they are continuing to investigate other charter opportunities.
All other options we suggested have proven undeliverable. None of CalMac’s Clyde-based fleet are certified to operate in the Firth of Lorne. The Alfred cannot operate between Lochboisdale and Mallaig; and in any case it is now deployed to Arran.
If you are impacted by the service reductions of the next two weeks please do let us know by emailing us. In some cases (particularly hospital appointments) we have been able to get solutions from CalMac. But even if we can’t immediately help, every example of disruption, missed opportunities, lost business, missed appointments, failed deliveries or any other impact is helpful for us to build arguments for improvement.
Finally – a word about CalMac’s frontline staff. They are under immense pressure right now and regardless of how each of us are individually being affected, please remember that they are victims as much as us. Often more so, because they are at the receiving end of frustration and anger. The causes of this chaos are in Edinburgh, Gourock and Port Glasgow. Please try to remember that!