Meeting with Transport Minister (and latest on Loch Frisa break-down)

MIFC and Visit Mull & Iona met with the new Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop last Thursday in Craignure. Mrs Hyslop took over from Kevin Stewart in June, who had himself only been in post since March of this year. We’ve had eight different Transport Ministers in the past 10 years, and four in this Parliament alone (since May ’21). Lack of continuity and direction at Ministerial level is one of the major causes of the ongoing ferry crisis, so we are hoping that the very experienced Mrs Hyslop will stay in the job for longer than her predecessors.

Economic impact of ferry disruption

We met to discuss the need for business support following the service disruption of the early summer and the Isle of replacements, as well as other topics. We wrote to the Minister in early June, after our business survey showed a loss of £1.5 million for Mull and Iona businesses resulting from ferry disruption. Since then it has become clear that despite the ferry system returning to near-normality, the reputational damage caused by rolling cancellations and the botched introduction of CalMac’s new ticketing system is having a major impact on the tourist industry in particular.

Visit Mull and Iona have conducted a survey of their members, and found that not only is trade still suppressed, but forward bookings are also down. VMI chair Margaret Matthew presented their findings to the Minister, and has asked for a package of marketing support to help overcome the negative perception Mull and Iona now has (together with the entire Hebrides) as inaccessible and risky to visit. The Minister undertook to take the proposal to her tourism counterpart Richard Lochhead, and we hope to hear the outcome of that soon.

Isle of Mull Replacements

We also talked about the upcoming replacement of the MV Isle of Mull. Despite being planned for replacement four years ago in 2019 (according to the 2012 Ferries Plan), and now being 36 years old, there is still no budget allocation in the Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan. This is reflected in CMAL’s current corporate plan, that makes no mention of the IOM replacements, and places greater emphasis on the younger Lord of the Isles.

Craignure-Oban shares with Ullapool-Stornoway the title of ‘most congested’ of all CalMac’s routes – and that is based on calculations from before the arrival of the Loch Frisa, which has further reduced capacity.

Fiona Hyslop assured us that the commitment to replace the Isle of Mull was there, but the project was not yet at the stage of allocating finance. We were told that we should see it feature in the upcoming Islands Connectivity Plan. Our understanding from previous discussions with Transport Scotland was that tendering for build of new vessels for Mull would start in 2024. Clearly if there is no budget yet fixed, that timeline is looking unlikely.

We will keep stressing the urgent need for new vessels and extra capacity on the Craignure-Oban route (see here for more). At current pace however, it is looking very likely that the Isle of Mull could be 40 years old before successors arrive. Much like the ‘Auld Trooper’ MV Isle of Arran who is now 40 years old and still awaiting the arrival of the long-overdue Glen Sannox to take over her duties.

In the interim, there is the likelihood that the FInlaggan, (to be replaced by one of the Turkish newbuilds) will be cascaded to Mull, but the capacity uplift would be negligible.

So we will continue to press Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister to commit to funding the Isle of Mull replacements. It’s already five years late, by Scottish Government’s own timetable.

Loch Frisa breakdown

The Loch Frisa broke down yesterday (Sunday) and remains out of service. We understand that the problem is a cracked cylinder head(s) on one of the main engines. That’s obviously not an easy or quick repair, and the Frisa is expected to be out of service until at least Thursday 31st August.

Meantime, the Coruisk will be sailing down from Mallaig tomorrow morning (leaving Sleat with a single vessel service) to pick up Frisa’s timetable from the afternoon.

The Frisa has Scania engines, similar to those fitted on their large trucks. Parts should therefore be relatively readily available. However, it is likely that the Coruisk will be with us beyond Thursday. If she is still here on Saturday, the final return of the day (with a 22:30 departure from Oban) will not operate due to crew working hours limits. Tuesday’s late sailings will also not operate for the same reason.

Remember that if you plan to take the Lochaline ferry instead, the Corran ferry is still not running…..

2 thoughts on “Meeting with Transport Minister (and latest on Loch Frisa break-down)

  1. Once again a cancelled outgoing ferry has resulted in the entire return journey being cancelled. We still need to return as scheduled!

    1. We will take this up with CalMac again!

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