Calmac have announced their summer timetable and plans which, they hope, will solve issues surrounding ferry cancellations on the Mallaig-Armadale route.
The main timetable change of note is the company’s intention to deploy two vessels on the Skye crossing to allow the MV Coruisk to provide much needed additional capacity on the very busy Oban-Craignure route. This despite strong calls to bring the Coruisk back to Skye
Operations Director Drew Collier said: “The MV Lord of the Isles and MV Loch Fyne will serve the Mallaig-Armadale route providing the additional capacity, frequency and improved reliability requested by the Sleat community.
He added: “We have specifically planned the timetable to benefit coach traffic which was affected by disruptions due to tidal issues last Summer.”
The MV Loch Fyne, which traditionally operates between Lochaline and Fishnish on Mull, will require some modifications to her ramps to operate on the Sound of Sleat, but, once completed, will allow us to provide more capacity and more sailings on the route than in Summer 2015 when the MV Coruisk operated alone.
The two vessels are scheduled to operate 9 return sailings per day (versus 8 in 2015) or 3287 sailings over the Summer season (versus 3126 in Summer 2015). The route will be able to take 23,300 more cars than in 2015 and around 11,400 more than 2016. MV Loch Fyne can carry up to four coaches dependent on size compared with two on the MV Lochinvar.
He said: “We believe we have been able to come up with a solution, as requested by the Transport Minister, which removes the level of uncertainty caused by the tidal issues experienced last year and provides an enhanced service. Due to spring tides the timetable for the first two weeks of the Summer service will be noticeably variable but that is unavoidable and we are sure that with advance notice customers can plan around that.
“The positive news is that travel trade bookings for the route in Summer 2017 are looking positive with no indication that last year’s issues are putting coach operators off travelling to and from Skye via Mallaig.
“We are contacting coach operators to review their plans for Summer 2017 and assure them that our proposals for the Mallaig-Armadale service should address any concerns they have. We will be stressing that we have ample capacity and a suitable timetable to take many more.”
“We will continue to monitor the service and if any other options present themselves, such as the availability of additional tonnage to the fleet, then we will of course consider them, but we cannot hold off making a decision any longer without causing unnecessary uncertainty which is potentially more damaging to businesses dependent on travellers making their holiday plans soon.”
Mr Collier said apart from repeating the three-vessel service which caused problems last year CalMac’s only other option for 2017 was to remove the MV Coruisk from the Mull service and run a limited number of extra sailings with the MV Isle of Mull, but these would be at the start and end of the day which would not address demand at peak times.
He added: “We would ask that everyone with an interest in the route gets behind this decision which has much to commend it, and work with us to make the very best of the additional sailings and capacity. We have offered assistance to the Sleat community with marketing and other promotional activity to encourage more people to come to the area and reassure them that the Mallaig-Armadale ferry route is open for business.”