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Scottish Western Isles Ferry Fleet ‘Left to Rust’ as Cost of CalMac Repairs Spiral

30th December 2021
Fleet left to Rust: CalMac operates the largest ferry fleet in the UK, which Afloat adds is owned by the Scottish Government. Among the ageing fleetmates, is the Isle of Arran (above) dating to 1984 and which serves on the Firth of Clyde to Arran, the most southerly 'year-round' route of an extensive ferry network throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Fleet left to Rust: CalMac operates the largest ferry fleet in the UK, which Afloat adds is owned by the Scottish Government. Among the ageing fleetmates, is the Isle of Arran (above) dating to 1984 and which serves on the Firth of Clyde to Arran, the most southerly 'year-round' route of an extensive ferry network throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Credit: Jehan Ashmore

Ferry operator CalMac which is owned by the Scottish Government, has been accused of leaving the fleet to rust, as new figures show the cost of repairs rising by almost a quarter.

Since the start of the current CalMac franchise in 2016, the cost of repairs and maintenance for the fleet has risen by 23 per cent to £17,262,000 for the year. The total cost of repairs over the last five years amounts to £83,661,000.

CalMac’s services comprise the UK’s largest ferry operation, with a network of 29 routes stretching from Stornoway to Campbeltown (see 'seasonal' Mull of Kintyre excursion story).

A number of the sharpest increases were for ships running well past their original 25-year lifespan. This includes a 70 per cent rise in costs for the 36 year-old MV Loch Striven over the last five years; a 61 per cent rise in the costs for the 37 year-old MV Isle of Arran over the last five years and a 73 per cent rise in costs for the 29 year-old MV Caledonian Isles over the last five years.

Some of the newer vessels are not faring much better, with costs for the beleaguered MV Loch Seaforth (see Irish Sea story) rising 45 per cent, despite it only being launched in 2014. Similarly, costs for the seven year-old MV Catriona have tripled, rising by 197 per cent.

Further reading from The Scotsman

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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. 

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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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