No change to winter service on the Sound of Sleat, says Transport Minister

The ‘Lochinvar’ would be subject to worse disruption in the winter, said the Transport minister

There will be no change to the winter ferry service between Mallaig and Armadale this year, campaigners have been told.

In a letter to the Sleat Transport Forum Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Transport Secretary, said that after considering “several options” he had decided “that the winter 2016-17 service should be the same as the previous year.”

On the back of a troubled summer season, the announcement is a blow to those lobbying for year-round improvements on the service.

Mr Yousaf has pledged a better deal for 2017, suggesting that an alternative vessel could be chartered to ease problems on the route.

However, the latest decision means that from 24th October 2016 until the 30th March 2017 the Sound of Sleat route will be served by the MV Loch Nevis – the same vessel which also sails to the Small Isles.

Mr Humza Yousaf’s letter – which echoes what operators Caledonian MacBrayne had said previously – adds: “Other options that CalMac developed, as requested by the Forum, included the use of the MV Lochinvar (or another hybrid vessel) and the MV Lord of the Isles. CalMac confirmed that the MV Lochinvar (or other hybrid) would be tidally affected on the route and given the MV Lochinvar was significantly disrupted on the route by weather this summer, she therefore would highly likely be subject to worse disruption during the winter.

“Given the issues with reliability and tidal restrictions experienced this summer and the representations made by the Forum and elected members, I do not consider this to be a viable option.”

Mr Yousaf described the summer service on the route this year as “unacceptable” and promised changes will be made for 2017 – either by chartering or buying in an alternative vessel.

“I have told CalMac that a solution must be found for Summer 2017. I have instructed CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland to work together with urgency to look for an additional vessel to charter or purchase to alleviate the problems experienced this summer and I will keep you up to date as matters progress.”

The introduction of the fare-reducing Road Equivalent Tariff scheme has increased demand on the Mallaig-Armadale crossing, but the service has been subject to heavy criticism. This year the MV ‘Coruisk’ was withdrawn from the route and replaced with a three-vessel arrangement since plagued by delays and cancellations.

The Sleat Transport Forum also wanted operators CalMac to increase the level of winter sailings, and to introduce a dedicated vessel for the route.