Island communities will have to accept a reduction in journeys or reduced capacity next year, according to the Scottish Government transport minister.
Changes to the timetable for the 2022 season are currently out for public consultation, but it has been warned services could be removed in off-season because of a lack of staff.
The affected routes, sailing from Tarbert in Argyll and Lochmaddy in North Uist could still run on the current timetable, but without mezzanine decks — the closure of which would drastically cut car capacity on board.
Transport minister Graeme Dey said the reductions would be required to allow staff adequate rest between sailings, after concerns were raised about reduced services by Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan.
Mr Dey said: “Increasing demand on the route has led to CalMac deploying mezzanine decks more frequently, and that has led to challenges for loading and off-loading on the current timetable.
“Any delays to sailings have knock-on effects, often requiring the need for sailings to be cancelled in order to ensure crews to get the required hours of rest.
“This option is therefore being developed to allow the mezzanine decks to be fully deployed with some amendments to timetables, resulting in the removal of the shoulder off-peak season in having a consistent timetable for the whole summer period.
“However, if the community do not want this, the summer 2021 timetable will remain in place although the mezzanine deck will not be deployed in order to avoid delays and cancellations.”
Island communities have already been left frustrated by cancelled and reduced services as a result of the pandemic, and the ongoing impact Coronavirus has had on their economies.
An extra ship had to be chartered in the summer — which subsequently broke down — to meet demand, after capacity was reduced to 35% as part of the government’s restrictions.
New ferries delayed
A boat for the Hebrides, ordered in 2015, are still to be completed and delivered, despite the company building the ships coming under Scottish Government ownership.
Orders for two ships, built in Port Glasgow and set to sail for communities on the Clyde and the Hebrides, were placed by CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) with Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) in October 2015.
Each ferry, named 801 and 802, is not expected to launch for service until 2022 and 2023, respectively — as much as 49 and 55 months late, respectively.
A report by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee stated there had been a “catastrophic failure” in the procurement process, but islands minister Paul Wheelhouse subsequently rejected the findings.