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Career Ends for Last of Scottish ‘Island’ Class Ferry While Sisters Remain In Irish Service

22nd March 2018
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Farewell Raasay: Gordon Law and Stuart Craig of the Clyde River Steamer Club joined CalMac's small vessel technical superintendent, Jonathan Davies (centre) for a last look around the former Inner Hebrides serving carferry. A sister, Canna Afloat adds was replaced by newbuild Spirit of Rathlin made a delivery voyage to its island namesake off Antrim, Northern Ireland for the first time a year ago today. The new carferry after trials entered service in June and this led to Rathlin Island Ferry Co return the chartered Canna to Scottish owners CMAL. Farewell Raasay: Gordon Law and Stuart Craig of the Clyde River Steamer Club joined CalMac's small vessel technical superintendent, Jonathan Davies (centre) for a last look around the former Inner Hebrides serving carferry. A sister, Canna Afloat adds was replaced by newbuild Spirit of Rathlin made a delivery voyage to its island namesake off Antrim, Northern Ireland for the first time a year ago today. The new carferry after trials entered service in June and this led to Rathlin Island Ferry Co return the chartered Canna to Scottish owners CMAL. Photo: CMAL

#FerryNews – One of the longest serving car ferries of Scottish operator, CalMac, is retiring from west coast service, though a number of sisters remain in Irish waters, writes Jehan Ashmore. 

The MV Raasay built to a landing craft design, whereby vehicle access was only available at the bow (incl. foot passengers) became the last of eight ‘Island’ class delivered during the 1970’s. The small ferry at 69grt served its namesake island located in the Inner Hebrides.

Several of the Island class sisters remain in service following disposal to new owners operating along the Irish western seaboard. These sisters, all beyond their 40th year, maintain island services off counties Donegal and Galway. Afloat will have more on these sisters, though the MV Canna which had served Rathlin Island off Antrim was disposed last year. 

The 75 passenger / 6 vehicle MV Raasay served the Sconser-Raasay route for 21 years from the vessel's launch in 1976 until increased traffic from the island made her unsuitable. From hereon the ferry became one of the CalMac relief vessels until being pressed back into regular service again in 2003 as the winter ferry serving Kilchoan-Tobermory.

The 'Island' class vessels transformed services for CalMac, as they opened up a new route to Arran. In addition to opening two additional routes to Mull and provided a safe and reliable link from Skye to Raasay. Being virtually interchangeable they greatly increased the flexibility of the fleet.

CalMac which is state-owned under the Scottish Government, operates a fleet of 33 vessels serving 27 island and remote mainland communities across the west coast. They are the UK's largest ferry company and last year they carried more than 5.3 million passengers and nearly 1.3 million vehicles.

MV Raasay was handed back to owners Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) who are expected to announce a buyer for the vessel shortly.

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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