CalMac Ferries warns of ‘significant’ breakdown risk

The new interim managing director of CalMac Ferries has warned passengers that the operator’s “ageing fleet” could cause problems as it prepares for its busiest ever summer season.

CalMac said “the risk of mechanical failures and breakdown is significant” among much of its fleet.

In 2017, CalMac carried more than five million passengers, nearly 1.5 million cars, about 80,000 coaches, and just under one million metres of commercial traffic.

The ferries deployed on CalMac routes are leased to the company by their owners, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), a separate company which is also wholly-owned by the Scottish Government.

The average age of CalMac’s ferries is just under 22 years old — while the working life expectancy of a ferry deployed on routes like those on Scotland’s western seaboard is around 25 years.

” … so with nearly half of the ferries working these routes already beyond that milestone — and having been used intensively during those years of service — the risk of mechanical failures and breakdown is significant,” said CalMac.

“It also takes longer to get older boats back into service when things do go wrong, often due to the difficulty in sourcing parts across Europe …

“Any issues with a vessel on one part of the network will have knock-on effects for other routes, as boats need to be diverted or deployed elsewhere to keep the lifeline network running.

“Islay has already been adversely affected by such changes this week, with one of the two ferries that normally serve the island needing to be withdrawn to fulfil contractual obligations elsewhere.”

Robbie Drummond, interim managing director of CalMac Ferries, said: “We ask a lot of our fleet, and indeed our people, at the busiest time of year on our network.

“I know everyone here is ready and eagerly anticipating another successful summer season, but I am also very conscious of the workload our boats will be undertaking and the strain that puts them under, particularly the older vessels in the fleet, eight of which are more than 30 years old now.

“We’re already dealing with the consequences of that reality and I’d like to apologise to everyone impacted by the temporary removal of the MV Hebridean Isles from the Islay services to cover for the MV Clansman, which is currently in dry dock awaiting the return of the propulsion unit sent to Denmark for repairs.

“We know that locals and visitors alike have come to expect the more regular service and greater capacity provided by two boats, so we understand people’s frustration when one of those vessels needs to be deployed elsewhere.

“CMAL is investing in new ferries, with the Glen Sannox, launched in November, one of two new ferries that will join our fleet in the future. Until then, we will of course proactively manage as best we can with the current fleet, but I fear that it will, at times, cause issues on some of our routes.”

CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, which is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers.

Previously operating as Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, CalMac was created in October 2006 to bid for the Scottish Government contract to operate Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services, which it subsequently won.

At the same time Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd changed its name to Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) and retained ownership of the vessels and piers which it leases to the operator of the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry services (currently CFL).

CMAL is also wholly owned by Scottish Ministers but is separate from CFL. Although they have the same shareholder, each has its own board and their relationship is solely contractual.

CalMac Ferries Limited has one wholly owned subsidiary — Caledonian MacBrayne Crewing (Guernsey) Limited, which employs and supplies all 1,000 sea-going staff to CFL.