Islay's new ferry, the MV Finlaggan, started its service last year and many were very proud of this posh vessel with more capacity than the older ferry it replaced. Rumours were back then that this new ferry wouldn't be used solely on the Islay route and that, in the longer term, the MV Finlaggan would be used on another route. Naming the ferry 'Finlaggan' and not 'Islay' as the majority on Islay wanted, could be seen as a sign to support these thoughts. And now it looks like these rumours are at least partially true. At a time where the present ferry service is under pressure due to a lack of capacity, an extra run a day is what is really needed, Calmac suddenly drops a wee bomb by releasing plans that they are pulling the MV Finlaggan from the Islay route for five months and return an older ferry with less capacity. The new ship is to be deployed as the CalMac fleetâ€™s relief vessel on northern routes from December. Islay will retain a two vessel service, but Islay's Community Council calls for additional sailings immediately and at peak winter periods, describing the current service as â€˜inadequateâ€™.
The MV Finlaggan in Stornoway for berthing trials in April this year - image courtesy Donald Macleod
As I understand it there will be consultation with local communities so nothing is 100% certain yet, but when plans appear on paper like they do in the statement from Calmac (below) there won't be much room for changes. Mind you, over four million pounds have been invested to get the MV Finlaggan to Port Ellen, ready since last month, so let's hope this won't become a waste of public money when Calmac decides for whatever reason not to send the MV Finlaggan back to the Islay route after this winters' withdrawal. Continue reading.....
Below is the the CalMac statement in full.
We are aware that there are some rumours circulating in Islay about the deployment of the MV Finlaggan during the Winter refit schedule and wish to clarify our plans. We are still finalising some of the detail and consulting with local communities across the network but the situation is broadly as follows.
Reshuffling the fleet to maintain service levels during the Winter refit period is a major challenge because we have limited flexibility within the fleet, and this is especially true on the routes which are traditionally operated by our larger vessels. If service levels are maintained we are able to cope but if we have a period of prolonged bad weather and a number of sailings are lost it can take several days to catch up. For example, places like Coll, Tiree and Colonsay which do not have daily services in the Winter can be without a full service for many days.
This year we have therefore reviewed our Winter refit schedule to see if we can make better use of the vessels at our disposal in order to improve bad weather resilience and have decided to deploy MV Hebrides to cover for four different ships to allow the MV Clansman to operate for as long as possible on the Oban-Coll-Tiree- Barra-Lochboisdale routes. This will require us to use MV Finlaggan on the busy Uig triangle, and assuming the rest of the refit schedule goes to plan, she would leave Islay around the first weekend in December and return in time to cover the busy Easter weekend, after which she would go for her own refit.
We are very mindful that Islay will wish to retain a two vessel service so propose deploying MV Lord of the Isles (which has previously been used to cover for the MV Clansman) to Islay alongside the MV Hebridean Isles. We will review the capacity needs for this service during this period and, if required, can timetable additional sailings to ensure we meet demand. We are currently reviewing advanced bookings on this route to assess what those needs are. Taking this course of action has the added benefit of allowing us to keep the MV Isle of Arran in reserve and available to cover breakdowns or disruptions. We are currently assessing where best to position her for this role.
We recognise that Islay will be disappointed to lose MV Finlaggan, but hope they will recognise that we have to balance the needs of the whole network to ensure no-one is left without a service for any period of time. We are confident that we can maintain, and on some occasions enhance, the service Islay currently receives as the result of strategic deployment of vessels.
To be continued....