Disrupted and unreliable ferry services have caused an “all-time critical situation”, representatives of Scotland’s island communities have told MSPs.
The community representatives vented their fury over poor ferry provision and the “appalling” impact it has on island life.
The Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is conducting an inquiry into ferry services and heard from a number of groups on Tuesday morning.
It came as one ferry whic services Islay – the MV Hebridean Isles – was withdrawn from service due to a technical issue. Other sailing across the network, including Gourock to Dunoon, Ardrossan to Brodick and Oban to Coll and Tiree, have been cancelled or delayed by bad weather.
CalMac’s ageing fleet of vessels have caused problems across the ferry network as they are often withdrawn for maintenance or repairs.
Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group, said unreliable ferries had led to difficulties for people who have medical appointments on the mainland.
He said: “It really can’t be overstated how many and varied the impacts are.”
Delays with the two new vessels being built at Ferguson Marine are “disastrous”, he said, causing knock-on effects for the rest of the ferry fleet.
A CalMac Ferry sails the Sound of Iona
Garry MacLean, of the Islay Community Council Ferry Committee, noted that the MV Hebridean Isles was currently out of service due to an engine problem.
There are nine whisky distilleries on Islay, he said, and ferries are needed to provide supplies.
He said: “If any cog breaks down, it has a disproportionate impact on everyone else. For us it seems to be the ferries most often.”
Margaret Morrison, chair of the Harris Transport Forum, said islanders were at an “impasse” with CalMac.
She said: “I have never seen such anxiety amongst the population.”
Ms Morrison continued: “This has reached an all-time critical situation.”
“And I feel that the Western Isles are really at the point of almost extinction of our businesses. Our morale is so low.”
She added: “I cannot stress just how dreadful we’re all feeling about the situation with the ferries in Harris.”
Joe Reade, chair of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said the ferry service was so unreliable it had become a “guessing game”.
He said: “It all adds to the cost of life, it deteriorates the quality of life.
“It’s really appalling.”
A ferry in Barra harbour
Problems with ferry links are causing depopulation as islanders choose to move to the mainland, he said.
Mr Reade criticised the “bizarre and artificial” separation of the ferry owners, Cmal (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd), and the operators, CalMac.
He said the ferries serving Scotland’s islands are too large and suggested a greater number of smaller vessels would be more appropriate, saying: “We don’t need these behemoths.”
The two Ferguson Marine ferries would have been too expensive even if they had been delivered on time, he said.