Is it Time for an Islay Owned Ferry?

How will MV ‘Hebridean Isles’ be replaced? Jack Fleming calls for a home-grown Islay solution

On Wednesday I published an article about Islay's new Ferry, the MV Finlaggan, which will be pulled from the Islay service for five months this coming winter. This is bad news for Islay, the island is in dire need of extra services due to its ever growing popularity as a tourist destination and certainly not less services. Of course the Finlaggan will be replaced when she leaves the Islay service but most likely with a smaller vessel with less capacity.

As a result of the above mentioned article a wee discussion started on the Islay Info Google+ page in which I had asked Paul Graham, being a member of the Marketing Group, for his opinion on the matter. Paul Graham: "Disappointed but not surprised. CalMac have never been known for good community consultation. We have been summoned to a meeting with Martin Dorchester MD to explain to the unlearned the tonnages of ships and the traffic volumes on Islay. In other words their justification for the decision. We as a community will continue to fight for better ferry services for Islay with or without Finlaggan. We are now very much of the mind it is time to have a community owned and run ferry, then we can control our own destiny." Paul also referred to a letter from Jack Fleming, Chair of the Islay & Jura Tourism and Marketing Group, which was published earlier in the Ileach in which Jack made an appeal for community support for a possible future Islay owned and operated ferry as an added service to the existing Calmac ferries.

The MV Hebridean Isles at Port Ellen

Jack Fleming: "The “MV Hebridean Isles” will soon reach her 30th birthday yet we are not aware of any plans for her replacement. New environmental regulations aimed at reducing the emissions from elderly and inefficient marine engines are also likely to limit her operational life as well as that of the MV 'Isle of Arran'. This means we have around three years before we are facing the probable loss of one of our ferries. We should remember that the process that was to eventually result in the maiden voyage of the MV ‘Finlaggan’ took a decade to complete. We urgently need a coherent plan to replace these vessels - yet we know that the Scottish Government will struggle to fund them. In this context, we believe that the Islay community should lead the way and develop an alternative strategy. An increasing number of islands around the world own and operate their own ferries – some have been doing so for many years. The model is there for the people of Islay and Jura to follow. Continue reading....

This is not a new idea for these islands it is true, but perhaps its time has come. The suggestion is not that this vessel should replace the CalMac service, far from it. Rather, the Islay-owned vessel would complement CalMac’s Finlaggan, dramatically increasing the frequency and capacity of services available to island visitors and businesses alike. Based on a seven year contract from the Scottish Government to provide an Islay – mainland service, a Standard Mid Water Ferry (SMWF) could be financed and commissioned by an Islay-based company. The Scottish Government would then charter the vessel from the island and determine the fares to be charged in accordance with RET. RET means that the fare structure is de-coupled from the cost of providing the service so all ticket revenues would be collected by the Government.

"At the end of the finance period the vessel would become the fully-owned property of the island company. The vessel would be able to use existing berths without additional capital expenditure on the port infrastructure and it would employ an automatic mooring system. These economical vessels are designed to minimize dry dock time with servicing and many repairs possible from dockside during downtime. Major components, including engines and thrusters are extracted and installed through the deck by crane, simplifying procedures, decreasing cost and increasing operational time.

"Passenger accommodation would be to a high standard in one upper deck saloon. There would be a coffee shop from which sandwiches, snacks and hot and cold drinks could be served, franchised to a local company using local produce and employing local staff. The crossing time would be around two hours. With a crew of six, and four crews per vessel, four sailings per day could be offered – with a fifth as an option in response to heavy traffic. With the vessel based on Islay, the crew would live locally and be part of the community they serve. Crews would average less than 40 hours per week and would enjoy holidays and conditions comparable to other shift workers with similar skills. Such arrangements are similar to those used in the airline industry and they allow the vessel to be operated for 24 hours per day if necessary.

"Running our own ferry service is in no sense pie in the sky. Some far-sighted folk have been working on this principle for years and much of the work has been done on costings, vessel type, projected management structures etc. The foundations of the company are there and ready to be utilised. The missing ingredient is the support of the people of Islay and Jura – it will not work without you, both your overall support and the direct service of some of you by joining the ferry company as board or committee members. On the latter you do not need to know how to run a ferry – we would hire a ship manager for that – but knowing how to run a business and being able to identify and support the needs of the island folk would help!

"The maintenance of a two-ferry service to Islay is vital to our future. In the face of the coming crisis and in the absence of any coherent alternative proposals to replace our second ship, we believe that it is time for the Islay community to step up to the mark and work with the Scottish Government for our collective benefit. It is hoped to arrange a public meeting sometime soon, at which any queries and arising issues can be aired and discussed."

Tag: ferry hebridean isles calmac