The economy of south Skye is at risk of “eroding” if ferry operator CalMac do not deploy suitable vessels on the Armadale-Mallaig crossing, the island’s MSP has warned.
Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch expressed disappointment after CalMac announced that the MV ‘Coruisk’ — which was purpose-built for the Mallaig to Skye ferry crossing — will not be returning to the route for the summer 2017 timetable. Following the MV ‘Coruisk’’s removal last summer one in ten crossings were cancelled, with only 85 per cent of scheduled sailings arriving on time because the replacements could not operate in low tides. In addition, some local businesses reported a loss in takings of tens of thousands of pounds and two tour operators have said they intend to avoid the ferry crossing entirely because of the disruption.
Despite this, CalMac are to deploy the MV ‘Lord of the Isles’ and MV ‘Loch Fyne’ on the Mallaig-Armadale service while the MV ‘Coruisk’ provides additional capacity on the Oban-Craignure route.
CalMac operations director Drew Collier said: “The MV ‘Lord of the Isles’ and MV ‘Loch Fyne’ will serve the Mallaig-Armadale route providing the additional capacity, frequency and improved reliability requested by the Sleat community. We have specifically planned the timetable to benefit coach traffic which was affected by disruptions due to tidal issues last summer.
“The MV ‘Loch Fyne’, which traditionally operates between Lochaline and Fishnish on Mull, will require some modifications to her ramps to operate on the Sound of Sleat, but, once completed, will allow us to provide more capacity and more sailings on the route than in summer 2015 when the MV ‘Coruisk’ operated alone.”
The two vessels are scheduled to operate nine return sailings per day — one more than in summer 2015 — and CalMac say they will be able to take around 11,400 more cars than last summer.
Mr Collier added: “We believe we have been able to come up with a solution, as requested by the Transport Minister, which removes the level of uncertainty caused by the tidal issues experienced last year and provides an enhanced service. Due to spring tides the timetable for the first two weeks of the summer service will be noticeably variable but that is unavoidable and we are sure that with advance notice customers can plan around that.
“We have offered assistance to the Sleat community with marketing and other promotional activity to encourage more people to come to the area and reassure them that the Mallaig-Armadale ferry route is open for business.”
Kate Forbes (pictured above) said: “Until we have a dedicated vessel, we are at risk of eroding the economies of the south end of Skye and Mallaig. Having made clear that I think disruption on the Mallaig-Armadale ferry route is disastrous for local businesses and residents, I am, of course, disappointed that a new vessel has not been sourced for the Mallaig-Armadale route and the MV ‘Coruisk’ hasn’t been returned. However, I do welcome the proposed alterations to the MV ‘Loch Fyne’ to adapt it to the route and the promises of a more reliable timetable and more sailings.
“Now that the decision has been made, I will be watching the first few weeks of the summer timetable closely. At the slightest hint of the disruption experienced last summer, I will be in touch with the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, who has also promised to keep a close eye on the service.”
She added: “Ultimately what we need are new vessels for the CalMac fleet. It is clear that the Mallaig-Armadale route needs a dedicated vessel, that can operate on link spans, which is what is installed at the terminals at Mallaig and Armadale, rather than vessels that only operate from slipways, which is what the proposed vessels will do. This isn’t just about ferries, it is about residents and businesses, and my sincere hope is that last year’s chaos will not be repeated.”
Miss Forbes and Skye MP Ian Blackford have also written to Transport Minister Humza Yousaf to express their concerns about the situation.