The Constituency MSP for Argyll and Bute Michael Russell has announced that he will be hosting a “ferry summit” on Islay, in collaboration with the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee, after two weeks of cancellations and disrupted traffic caused by damage to the MV Hebridean Isles.
The vessel struck Kennacraig Pier during the evening of Saturday 23rd July and had to be taken to dry dock for repairs. This meant that the service was operated by a single vessel, the MV Finlaggan, from that date until Tuesday 9th August. The MV Finlaggan was also without a fully operating mezzanine deck during that period as the deck has been out of action for several months and can only be installed manually which required more time than is possible on the present timetable. Capacity on the crossing was therefore very substantially reduced (by up- to 50%) at the busiest time of the year.
Moreover as a result of the reduced capacity booking for the Islay service was not possible for a total of 16 days resulting in massive disruption to the island economy including cancellation of tourist accommodation for days and sometimes weeks and months ahead, delays to deliveries to the island and postponement of shipments leaving the island. These difficulties came after previous problems with the route earlier this year and on several other occasions over the past few years resulting in a growing lack of faith in the reliability of the route from visitors and locals alike. This is particularly problematic for Cal Mac as the route is responsible for almost 25% of the entire freight revenue earned by the company.
Speaking after a meeting of the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee on the island Mr Russell said: “The current situation on Islay cannot be allowed to continue. Frequent problems with the ferry service have led to a collapse in confidence in the ability of Cal Mac to service the island efficiently and effectively. The lack of an effective contingency plan to deal with the situation that occurred on the 23rd of July was extraordinary but it is not enough for the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to point the finger of blame at the company. At every level there has been a systemic failure to ensure that there are sufficient resources and vessels to provide back up in emergency situations and there now needs to be a detailed review of the route and its relationship to other routes and the totality of services provided by the company.
RET has been massively popular and the current Scottish Government has invested heavily in ferry services. We are therefore dealing with a problem of success but we must tackle that problem if the islands are to continue to flourish. If it is not dealt with there will be a decline in island economies further exacerbating depopulation.
I have therefore suggested to the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee that we jointly host a “Ferry Summit” on the island in October to which we will invite all the key players including Cal Mac, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government. The purpose of the summit will be to allow the facts about the disruption to be put on record, for the damage to the island economy and individual businesses to be quantified, and for agreement to be reached on a contingency plan which would ensure that this cannot happen again.
There have been too many disruptions of this nature in recent years. Islay cannot afford another one so the summit will give the opportunity to ensure that these problems are brought to an end.”
Commenting on the plan Islay McEachern, Chair of the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee said:
“The recent problems with the MV Hebridean Isles and the MV Finlaggan were disastrous for the island and we therefore strongly support the idea of a “ferry summit” to be held on the island in October. This must ensure that the facts of the recent disruption are put firmly on the record and the bodies responsible are held to account. We are therefore very pleased to be jointly organising it with our constituency MSP.
As a committee, and on behalf to the island, we have to ensure that there is no repetition of what has taken place too often in recent years. The summit must result in a cast iron commitment from the company, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to put in place arrangements to ensure this can never happen again. They have to have contingency plans to cope with it, as well as with any other foreseeable emergency and these need to written in to the new contract for the west coast services which was won by Cal Mac only a couple of months ago.
Islay simply cannot afford to have this situation recurring again and again. The summit is our opportunity to ensure that there is an open transparent and accountable plan in place for the future.”