The existing CalMac Ferries Limited fleet is creaking at the seams, with regular failures and breakdowns. CalMac’s largest ferry, the MV Loch Seaforth, serves the vital Stornoway to Ullapool route, but is currently out of service having suffered an engine failure last month. It was expected to be back on service on Friday, in time for the bank holiday weekend, but will now not resume sailings until Monday at the earliest.
In the meantime, CalMac have had to move ferries from other routes to keep services to the Western Isles running, causing problems elsewhere. Across the west coast and islands, there are real concerns as to the future sustainability of the ferry services supporting communities.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole situation is that it should not have taken anyone by surprise.
Politicians have known for years that the current CalMac fleet is ageing and prone to breakdown, and needs a major replacement programme.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Angus MacNeil who represents the Western Isles has now suggested that it is time to look at Poland or other shipbuilding nations to provide the vessels that are needed by the communities he serves. The fact that such a prominent SNP figure is suggesting that these ferries may have to be built outside Scotland just demonstrates how serious this issue has become.
It really would be a supreme irony if an SNP government in Scotland were left in a position where they had to off-shore the construction of new ferries to shipyards elsewhere in Europe, or in the Far East, due to the inability of their government-owned yard to fulfil orders.
And it would be even more ironic if the future of Scottish shipbuilding was being secured thanks to the spending of a UK Conservative government, able to take decisions and deliver investment in a manner in which SNP ministers could only dream of.