The Scottish Government has scoured the globe in vain trying to hire an additional
ferry for the busy Stornoway to Ullapool route.
Transport Scotland was willing to charter an additional ship to allow more people
to travel but no suitable vessel is available said transport minister Humza Yousaf.
Extra ferries are required on the summer services to the Western Isles say islanders
as a growing number of travellers are being refused bookings on their preferred sailings.
Additional peak sailings were cut when a single vessel - the MV Loch Seaforth - replaced
two ferries. The £42 million new-build Seaforth has to carry haulage trucks previously
transported by a dedicated freight boat.
Lewis now only gets two sailings a day at the height of the heaving summer period
- the same number as during the slack winter months.
Many would-be travellers simply cannot get space onboard ferries.
July is the worse time for islanders to travel as the Stornoway ferry is almost always
Cal Mac warns even foot passengers must book in advance over the Hebridean Celtic
Festival period due to the large number of festival-goers heading to the island.
Humza Yousaf stressed resolving the issue is a “priority” for the Scottish Government.
The MV Clipper Ranger which previously ran the overnight freight service to Ullapool
is not available as she is presently required for the growing Liverpool-Dublin route.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant pointed out the problem was predicted well before the Loch
Seaforth arrived but the Scottish Government failed to plan ahead.
But even hiring a freight vessel to transport lorries would free the Loch Seaforth
for an additional daily sailing would ease the pressure, she added.
The government must now start looking at a longer term strategy as the capacity shortage
will be repeated annually, she said.
Mrs Grant was relieved the government has eventually conceded there is an issue though
it is “disappointing” it would not be tackling this summer’s ferry shortage.
She stressed having two boats “would work all year and meet all needs” as one could
double up as a relief vessel in winter when other Cal Mac ships are in dry dock.