The planned return of the MV Clansman ferry to the west of Scotland has been postponed again. Earlier Calmac mentioned that the Clansman would return on the 25th of July. There seem to be further problems with the engine rebuild and as long as the Clansman doesn't come back into service Islay has to deal with the current one ferry timetable. Although informal contacts release some information every now and then the official Calmac website only mentiones "technical problems". It remains a mystery to me why a publicly funded company such as Calmac is so secretive about the nature of these "technical problems". And isn't it time that Calmac makes sure that there is a standby ferry, and crew, for the "Lifeline services" they provide in the west of Scotland?
In the meanwhile the effects of the continuing one ferry timetable become painfully clear in an article in the Ileach: "Paul and Joan Graham of An Taigh Osda in Bruichladdich have been very critical of Caledonian MacBrayneâ€™s handling of the Islay ferry service during the period that the island has been reduced to a single ferry service. Paul, who is also chairman of the Islay and Jura Tourism and Marketing Group, says that his own business has been badly affected by the disruption, and that he is contacted daily by his members to complain, particularly those who run bed and breakfast establishments. Paul told the Ileach "It seems that it is the bed and breakfast sector that has been worst hit. Self catering customers have been able to adjust their schedules, although many leave early, whereas B&Bs are seeing lots of cancellations. Turnover in our own business is down by around Â£5,500 and the primary cause is the unacceptable level of disruption to the ferry service. The level of information being offered to travellers is very poor - CalMacâ€™s customers are not being told of ferry cancellations - particularly with regard to the Islay/Colonsay run." Graeme Allison of the Port Charlotte Hotel agreed. He said "The island is quiet. Peak season has not yet arrived for us. We have seen six cancellations that are directly due to the lack of a ferry to Colonsay. I think it is the lack of this ferry that has affected us the most." Continue reading.....
Ian Brown, manager at The Machrie said: "We are losing between ten and fifteen room nights a week as a result of ferry disruptions. A further difficulty arises in that our customers, quite reasonably, expect to have their deposits returned in this situation, and we feel obliged to do so even though we would be quite within our rights to retain them. We obviously wish to retain as much goodwill as we can. A further observation would be that it would appear that potential travellers on the ferry are being told when they enquire about a booking that they are being put on a waiting list. People simply will not accept this. You are not going to bring your family up from the south to sit in a standby queue, wondering whether you are going to be given passage. What seems to have happened here is that while the ferries are indeed running and there is indeed space available, the information being given to the public and the administration of the current situation leaves a great deal to be desired."
Elsewhere around the network, the Aberdeen Press and Journal had a banner headline claiming "Islanders hit out as ferry chaos hits local economy - Barraâ€™s hotels and guesthouses report 40% drop in bookings". Councillor Donald Manford reported that some visitors to the Outer Isles "vowed never to return after their ferry experience" He too seemed to indicate that administrative difficulties are exacerbating the situation saying "CalMac insists that there are spaces on the ferry. However, people wanting to come to Barra are told the ship is full. There are numerous reports of tourists cancelling holiday accommodation as a result."
A letter from Phil Preston, Managing Director of CalMac Ferries Ltd, was read out at the meeting in which it was pointed out that unseasonably bad weather was the cause of a lot of the disruption. He continued "We are fully aware of the inconvenience and discomfort faced by some, but we are working extremely hard with the available fleet at our disposal to ensure that all those who wish to travel can travel."