Angry fishermen are threatening to blockade Port Askaig harbour in a bid to get the local council to address safety fears before the onset of winter storms. Argyll and Bute Council has created a new berthing area for fishing boats as part of a Â£12million upgrade of Port Askaig harbour. But fishermen and other commercial users claim the area is too shallow, the bottom is peppered with boulders and there are steel hazards sticking out of the concrete, making it a dangerous anchorage - instead of a safe haven - at low tide and in bad weather.
Other problems at the harbour include the installation of pier lighting which blocks out a green navigation light for approaching ferries. A lamppost has been erected where boats unload fish causing the landing crane, on bigger vessels, to crash into it as the dayâ€™s catch is swung ashore. Roger Eaton, Secretary of Port Askaig Harbour Association, said that a lengthy catalogue of errors had been reported to the Council but that the organisationâ€™s letters and emails had repeatedly been ignored. Mr Eaton said: 'This has been an ongoing thing for months. Basically Argyll and Bute Council wonâ€™t listen to us and we are getting really frustrated because the issues relate to safety at the pier. 'We have sent them emails, we have sent them letters, but they havenâ€™t replied and we are at the stage now where we are ready to blockade Port Askaig pier. We are looking at staging a blockade in the near future. Continue reading......We are giving it serious consideration. 'It would be the big passenger ferry we would be after, to cause a bit of disruption and make the Council sit up and take notice of us and force them into talking to us. 'We donâ€™t want to disrupt travellers and other people more than we have to. The idea is that the ferry would have to divert to Port Ellen and it would cause an inconvenience, rather than a problem.' Explaining the safety fears, Mr Eaton said: 'The depth of the new harbour is not as deep as the Council said it would be, and some of the boats are hitting the bottom at low tide, there are rocks at the bottom of the harbour and this is damaging the boats.' Mr Eaton, who operates a charter vessel, added: 'They put in steps but I can only access them at low tide so I have to put passengers up and down a vertical ladder instead. A lot of my passengers are retired and not so fleet of foot. The ladders are in the wrong places and the harbour is just not what the Council said it would be, it is making it potentially dangerous.'
The New Pier at Port Askaig
He said the last straw for the fishermen came when the Council recently erected a lamppost at the north end of the harbour, where the fishing boats land their catch. Mr Eaton said: 'It is going to restrict some of the bigger boats which use landing equipment because it will hit the lamppost as they try to swing their catch ashore.' Islay Councillor Robin Currie said he had repeatedly pressed officials to address the problems at the harbour and added: 'Itâ€™s really frustrating when we donâ€™t get the answers we are seeking.' Councillor Currie added: 'The Jura ferry had stopped doing late night sailings, because there were no lights at the pier and it couldnâ€™t operate in darkness, then they put the lights in and praise was given to everyone. 'But now I have been told, by the captain of one of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, that where they have put the pier light means it is so bright that the ferry canâ€™t see the green navigation light. 'Somebody has got to be taken to task about it because if this was a private operation somebody would have been down the road by now.'
The Inner Harbour at Port Askaig
In response to a letter from Argyll MP Alan Reid, a Council spokesman said the new inner harbour offers more protection from bad weather than the old harbour, but did promise that the Council would address some of the problems, including the need to flatten areas of the harbour bottom. However, in a bizarre comment, the Council spokesman added: 'The Council has never stated that the inner harbour would be a safe anchorage in all weather/tide conditions for 365 days a year.' Mr Reid said: 'I am pleased that the Council have promised to remove the high areas from the harbour bottom and to investigate other hazards which the harbour users drew attention to, but I am disappointed that the Council have not addressed all the issues raised. In particular, I am very concerned that the Council will not commit to providing a safe all-weather/tide anchorage. 'This is supposed to be a safe anchorage, but the association say that they cannot use it in a storm in its present state. This means that they would have to go to Port Ellen. This would be a safety issue in poor weather, plus the high cost of fuel.'
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.