As you might or might not know by now is that the Islay ferry service, operated by Calmac, is running a one ferry timetable where you normally see two ferries in operation, the Hebridean Isles and the Isle of Arran. This can cause some disruptions and alterations on several routes in the west of Scotland but most people and freight make it to Islay on time due to the efforts of Calmac, for some however the situation can be unpleasant. The reason for the one ferry timetable is the fact that the MV Clansman on another route in the Inner Hebrides broke down some weeks ago which caused the changes to the timetable. Why this is affecting Islay is very well explained in the Ileach newspaper on the 3rd of July.
The MV Clansman, one of the biggest ships in the CalMac fleet at 99metres, with a capacity of 90 cars and over 600 passengers, has suffered a major engine failure. A counterweight has come off the crankshaft resulting in her having to be withdrawn from service. She limped round to the James Watt dock in Greenock where the engine was removed by cutting a hole in the car deck and winching the unit out. Spare parts have been sourced, but rebuilding the engine and reinstalling it is going to be a long process. Engineers are working on the problem 24 hours a day but an accurate prediction of the time needed to reinstate the ship is not possible at the moment. It is certain to take several weeks however. The â€˜Hebridean Islesâ€™ has therefore had to be taken off the Islay route leaving the island served by a single ferry â€˜Isle of Arranâ€™. Continue reading.....
The â€˜Hebridean Islesâ€™ does not have the carrying capacity of the â€˜Clansmanâ€™ and therefore it is not simply a case of swapping one ship for another. This fact has resulted in a complex set of circumstances on a number of routes, and even though CalMac tell The Ileach that the crew from the â€˜Clansmanâ€™ has been redistributed throughout the network, a number of services will remain disrupted until the â€˜Clansmanâ€™ is able to return to her normal duties of serving Coll, Tiree and the Outer Isles through Lochboisdale. The route that has been most affected by this technical problem is however Islay, which has â€˜lostâ€™ five sailings a week from a normal total of 26. CalMac assure us that everything possible is being done to mitigate this circumstance, and it is hoped to bring the MV â€˜Isle of Mullâ€™ down from Oban on Monday evening to do an additional sailing to relieve the pressure on the Islay route. The ferry company is also examining other options as a matter of urgency in order to try and relieve what is acknowledged to be a most difficult situation at one of the busiest times of the year.
Officially sanctioned myths
The breakdown of the MV Clansman is unfortunate, but these things happen occasionally. Its how these crises are dealt with that is the key. On the face of it, things could be worse - all islands still have a ferry service, and the most badly affected, Islay, is down from 26 return sailings a week to 21, with an additional trip from Oban planned - so it will hopefully be 22.
It is hard to ascertain the true levels of disruption this has caused, but the general impression is that things appear to be much worse than ought to be the case given that we are â€˜onlyâ€™ four sailings a week down. Almost everyone has a story of friends, relatives and customers having their travel plans disrupted, of cancelled bookings, of people leaving the island early or delaying travel dates. CalMac are however saying that â€œwe are moving everything that is being presented to usâ€, perhaps not exactly when it wants to be moved, but we are assured they are doing their best. What this crisis really has exposed however, are more of the officially sanctioned myths that sustain the Scottish Governmentâ€™s ferry company. A few years ago, the Ileach dissected the myth of â€œcherry pickingâ€ by forcing the release of the information showing that CalMac loses money on every single route it sails - and that there are therefore no cherries to pick.
The Clansman incident is exposing another fantasy - that only a single operator across a â€˜big bundleâ€™ of routes has the flexibility to respond to these crises. None of the under-utilised ships of the Scottish Governmentâ€™s fleets, not the Hamnavoe (which was instructed to leave the Orkney run to collect ash-stranded air travellers from Scandinavia recently), or the Streakers in the Clyde, or the Saturn (which is shoring up the Arran route) is even temporarily available. They either donâ€™t fit the piers, or have the wrong certification apparently.
But perhaps the most telling feature of the Clansman story is how it has exposed the way that the remaining ships in the fleet still spend extended periods tied to the piers - not moving at all. This is fundamentally because they are designed to have crew accommodation aboard - the consequent arrangements meaning that crews have to take their time off on the ships - which means the company cannot deploy another crew to run the vessels through the night in an emergency. Or at least they could, but not without difficulties that are so huge that they have not been surmountable in this instance, despite previous promises. So the ships that should be solving this problem by running night freight services remain tied to their berths.
As always I will post updates on the situation as and when they become available. For the latest on the Islay ferry timetables check out the Calmac Serivce Status.