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CalMac Redeploy Ferries Across Under Pressure Network as Two Ships Are Sidelined

2nd February 2023
Ageing fleet: CalMac have been forced to redeploy ferries elsewhere on the network which includes the Isle of Arran route on the Firth of Clyde which is affected as the service normally operated by Caledonian Isles is out of service due to several issues.
Ageing fleet: CalMac have been forced to redeploy ferries elsewhere on the network which includes the Isle of Arran route on the Firth of Clyde which is affected as the service normally operated by Caledonian Isles is out of service due to several issues. Credit: Jehan Ashmore

CalMac, the Scottish government owned ferry company have been forced to redeploy ferries elsewhere on the network to cope with two of their 14 ships being sidelined to passengers.

The affected ferries is the 38-year-old MV Hebridean Isles along with the 30-year-old MV Caledonian Isles which have both been suspended from service on the Firth of Clyde (see freight role). The reason is that they face issues as part of ageing fleet and once again forcing an overhaul of the service that serve communities of Scotland's west coast islands.

Since Boxing Day there have been (ongoing bow) issues with the 1985 built MV Hebridean Isles while serving passengers to Arran with MV Isle of Arran sailings suspended since Wednesday because of an issue being worked on by engineers on this older vessel dating to 1984.

As The Herald reported, a return date is not yet known and that the ferry was expected to support services to and from Islay (out of Kennacraig) with the MV Isle of Arran set to be away on overhaul for two months with the ferry heading to dry-dock this Saturday.

It is now understood that work has been delayed and that the MV Isle of Arran is now expected to remain operating on a solo basis on the route until at least the 16th February.

More from The Scotsman on the technical issues affecting the aforementioned MV Caledonian Isles which is out of commission. The ferry's return to Arran service is to be delayed for up to five weeks.

Caledonian Isles was introduced in 1993 to replace the Isle of Arran which became the route's back-up ferry in south west Scotland and is CalMac's busiest route.

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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!