Barra facing empty shelves and expired food amid ferries crisis

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ISLANDERS are facing empty shop shelves and out of date food after a community has only had one ferry to its mainland ports in 10 days.

An SNP MSP has called on the Scottish Government to intervene after islanders on Barra have faced a host of interruptions to lifeline ferry services, warning over “economic and human” impacts.

CalMac, which operates the routes, has apologised after poor weather conditions and a string of repair works needed on vessels has meant Barra has gone 10 days with one one ferry run to Oban.

SNP Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has written to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson and Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse, calling for action and has asked the Government to consider chartering additional vessels.

The two main vessels suitable for the Oban – Castlebay route are in dry dock at the same time, with Barra’s main ferry MV Isle of Lewis’s overhaul facing delays.

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Meanwhile, the two relief vessels, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Isle of Arran, have been struggling to cope with the exposed waters of the Sea of the Hebrides during a period of rough weather.

This has resulted in shops in Barra attempting to stock food via neighbouring Eriskay, with perishables arriving days old.

Other businesses, including seafood processors, have been unable to ship fresh produce off the island on time. MV Hebrides was redeployed from the Tarbert – Uig route to Barra over the weekend to provide relief.

Dr Allan has asked the Scottish Government what can be done to improve fleet resilience.

He said: “This is an exasperating situation for the people and businesses of Barra.

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“Barra’s seafood industry has had lorries stranded even before they encounter similar problems further south.

“The lack of resilience within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Network is having real economic and human consequences. This situation is mirrored by last year, which saw several five-day periods with no mainland ferry sailings.

“I have asked the Scottish Government what they can do to consider chartering additional vessels or other measures that might relieve the current strain on the fleet.

“While Barra is worst effected at present, other ports such as Lochboisdale, and now Tarbert, are suffering from the lack of suitable vessels.”

Scottish Conservative rural economy spokesperson, Jamie Halcro Johnston, who is also a Highlands and Islands MSP, has also called for a solution.

He said:“The SNP Government must address this situation urgently. It is absolutely appalling that islanders have been left facing empty shelves and this simply cannot go on.

“While bad weather can have adverse effects, it is not good enough that the Scottish Government’s ferry fleet appears to have been completely unable to cope with this situation.

“Every measure must be explored by SNP ministers to support islanders and to ensure supplies return to normal as quickly as possible.”

Robert Morrison, operations director for CalMac, said: “Following the prolonged recent severe weather, which caused a lot of disruption to sailings, the MV Hebrides was moved to Oban-based services in order to provide lifeline services to Coll, Tiree and Barra. MV Lord of the Isles was also moved north to cover Lochmaddy Uig services.

“A delay in dry dock to the MV Isle of Lewis and the MV Clansman due to unplanned emergent repair work has also had an effect on services.

“We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused and appreciate the support of the community as we do our very best to ensure lifeline routes are maintained across the network.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said:“Scottish Ministers fully recognise the key role ferry services play in supporting the economic, social and cultural development of island and remote mainland communities.

“That is why this Government set up a resilience fund in 2018/19 to invest in ferry services to ensure future reliability and availability of vessels. This has amounted to £7.5m between 2018 – 2020, with a further £3m allocated this financial year.

“We acknowledge customers’ frustrations during periods of disruption and remain committed to supporting vital lifeline services. That is why Ministers have tasked CalMac Ferries Ltd and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd with seeking potential second hand tonnage (this includes catamarans) to improve operational resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes.

“To date no suitable second hand tonnage has been identified by either CalMac Ferries Ltd or Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd but their search continues.”

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