Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Caledonian MacBrayne

<![CDATA[ Isle of Lewis passing Arnish and Sandwick on its way to UllapoolThis name is likely to generate varying reactions. I'll start my post with the following poem that did the rounds some time ago:

The Good Lord above made the Earth and all that it contains
Except the Western Isles, for they are all MacBrayne's

which pretty much sums up what the company have been getting up to recently. My posts on Sunday ferries have generated some interesting response, which have helped to put things into perspective.
Islanders in Harris have called a public meeting to protest against sailings on the Sabbath. They claim to have a 711 strong petition in opposition to Sunday ferries. Renish Point from Harris tells us how that was obtained, so the credibility is ever so slightly undermined. Nonetheless, I have to agree that CalMac does not really deserve star prize for sensitive handling of a delicate situation. Irrespective of the volume of the petition, I do believe that there is a proportion of islanders in Harris who are genuinely opposed to a breach of the Sabbath on religious grounds. Unfortunately, the tide of public opinion has shifted to such an extend that the opinion of the church in secular matters is less and less taken heed of. Some say that that CalMac moved pretty sharpish to institute the Sunday sailing following the announcement of its intentions as it anticipated some opposition. However, I would think that as the crews were already working on the boat on Sunday, there was little in the way to actually start sailing it.
CalMac have declined to be present at the public meeting as the chairman and its board have made its position clear, and the ferries are there to stay, sailing on a Sunday. There is no legal ground on which to successfully challenge the decision. CalMac have a duty to provide a lifeline service, and within the Western Isles area, are ALREADY doing so on Sunday. From Lochmaddy, all of 10 miles from Berneray, to Uig (Skye), effectively the Scottish mainland (since 1989). From Castlebay (Barra) to Oban.

This weekend, three people were injured on board the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry when the vessel was hit by a freak wave. It had been a bumpy crossing by all accounts, when the master changed course, 12 miles east of Stornoway. This calmed things down, but then the Isle of Lewis was hit by a large wave, catching passengers unawares. Three passengers sustained minor injuries, and an ambulance was waiting for them on arrival at Stornoway, on time incidentally, at 8pm. Today, there is criticism of the captain for sailing in such conditions. CalMac defend their master, saying that on the day there was a strong Northwesterly wind (force 6) with a moderate northerly swell. Conditions were rough, but acceptable for sailing. The company acknowledges that it is a difficult crossing, but that it has full confidence in its captains' decisions to set sail - or not as the case may be. This comes within 6 months of an incident where the Isle of Lewis' sistership, the cargo ferry Muirneag, was driven 60 miles off course in hurricane force winds. One man was injured and had to be airlifted off. CalMac backed the Muirneag's master, saying he made a decision based on the forecast available at the time. This projected the arrival of the storm for a later time than it actually did arrive. ]]>

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