AN island MP has accused management of Caledonian MacBrayne of being “nothing short of incompetent”, after he claimed the company had failed to properly service their route between Mallaig and Armadale.
Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford has now written to CalMac’s chief executive pointing out that despite the chaos earlier this year when ferries were switched, it appeared that the same mistakes were about to be repeated in the new year.
In his letter to Martin Dorchester, Blackford said that when the MV Coruisk was transferred to provide additional crossings to Mull from Oban, the replacement vessels were not fit for purpose and were unable to use the link span port facilities – the drawbridges that enable vehicles to embark and disembark when tides affect water levels – at either Mallaig or Armadale.
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He said: “You removed from the route the one vessel that was fit for purpose and gave us ones that could not be deployed from the link spans. That was an error of judgment.
“Given that you have been aware of this situation since last spring, as a logistics and transport operator, you have had ample time to furnish the communities affected with a solution. The silence has been deafening.
“Businesses, amongst others, have to plan for the summer season and, as has been reported, bus operators are making alternative arrangements and will not use this route in 2017.
“As the operator you have a responsibility to the community, businesses and tourists visiting this area and it is also my concern that we have not fully benefitted from the opportunities that road equivalent tariff should have brought, as confidence in the service has been undermined.
“What we do know is that you have been conducting sea trials with the Loch Fyne, another vessel that is more suited to operating from slipways. If it is your intention to deploy this vessel on the Mallaig-Armadale route, this will not do.”
Blackford added: “We must have the service being operated for 2017 by vessels that can utilise the link spans.
“Given the regular and forecast periods of low tides you have an obligation to deploy vessels that can use the facilities provided and offer a regular and timetabled service.
“Not to provide such vessels is unacceptable to the communities of Skye and Lochaber and would fundamentally be nothing short of incompetence.”
Members of Sleat Transport Forum (STF) on Skye had previously reported that the MV Loch Fyne was being trialled on the Mallaig-Armadale route in preparation for taking it over next year.
They were alarmed as the ferry is also unable to use the link spans and would be subject to the same problems as the previous vessels.
Earlier this year, the forum also reported that the replacement vessels had failed to dock on at least 80 occasions. In the similar period when the service was operated by the Coruisk, the figure was just two cancellations in 428 sailings.
A spokesperson for CalMac told The National: “The timetables and, therefore, vessels for the Mallaig-Armadale route are yet to be finalised and discussions with the minister are ongoing.”