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Operator CalMac Sees Firth of Clyde Ferry Sidelined as £5m Repairs for Over Seven Months Is Due to 'Rust'

23rd February 2024
Scottish state-owned ferry operator, CalMac has to fork-out a £5m repair bill as the main ferry on the Firth of Clyde Arran route, MV Caledonian Isles is undergoing steelwork due to the rusting 31 year-old vessel.
Scottish state-owned ferry operator, CalMac has to fork-out a £5m repair bill as the main ferry on the Firth of Clyde Arran route, MV Caledonian Isles is undergoing steelwork due to the rusting 31 year-old vessel. Credit: Jehan Ashmore

CalMac which is a Scottish Government-owned ferry operator, has been landed with a £5m repair bill as one of its oldest ferries built in 1993 has been side-lined until at least July due to rust.

The west coast ferry operator, which has the biggest domestic fleet in the UK, has warned of disruption across the Clyde and Hebrides network as a result of steelwork issues with the 31-year-old MV Caledonian Isles. The 5,531 gross tonnes ferry which serves on Firth of Clyde route of Ardrossan-Arran is one of the busiest of the network and is due to be replaced, in the meantime the route is operated by the even older Isle of Arran built in 1984.

The route's main ferry Caledonian Isles has been out of action since going for an overhaul at the start of January as Afloat previously identified to the Clyde dry-dock of Dales Marine Services in Greenock. (The ferry was subsequently tracked this month to Merseyside, at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead where the works continue). 

In response to the situation, The Isle of Arran Ferry Committee said it was pushing for contingency plans over the latest problem to hit CalMac's ageing fleet.

Commenting on the development concerning MV Caledonian Isles, The Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency said it "is deeply regrettable" and expected CalMac to come forward with details of the changes to timetables as soon as possible, to allow ferry users to plan ahead and keep disruption to a minimum.

The ferry was sidelined for over three months with further steelwork and engine difficulties this time last year with repair work then estimated at £1m. It had been due to leave the yard after an overhaul before issues with the engines, steelwork and bearings were noted by engineers.

For more on the steelworks, TheHeraldScotland has the story.

Published in Ferry
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!