An extra ferry is to join the CalMac fleet on the west coast network, which has been affected by well-documented shipbuilding delays to the new ferries.
The Scottish government has given £9 million for Pentland Ferries to loan the ferry Alfred for nine months.
Two overdue CalMac ferries being built at the Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow have been delayed further, which prompted backlash from islanders.
Glen Sannox, which will serve Arran, will not be ready until the autumn rather than May of this
A second ferry, known as hull 802, had been due for hand over in March 2024 but will be delayed to that autumn.
The vessels are already five years behind schedule, with the cost of the project three times more than the original £97 million budget.
CalMac has still to confirm the details Alfred’s deployment. Chief executive Robbie Drummond said the extra vessel would provide ‘much-needed resilience’.
He added: ‘While her design means that she can only operate to some ports, having this extra vessel will help support the rest of the fleet during times of annual maintenance or disruption.’
When the shipbuilding delays were confirmed last week, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced an additional £6 million would be allocated to help complete the ferries.
This is on top of the £15 million of extra funding for Ferguson Marine already provided by the Scottish government this financial year.
Days before this, Scotland’s public spending watchdog reported that six senior managers at Ferguson Marine had been paid £87,000 in bonuses under former turnaround director Tim Hair – the man who was brought in after the firm was nationalised.
The auditor general said it was ‘unacceptable’ the money had not been cleared by the Scottish government.
Islanders on Arran called the situation a ‘catastrophe’ and shared anxiety about lost business and visitor numbers.
Sally Campbell, of the Arran Ferry Action Group, said: ‘It’s an absolute disgrace. We have a near 40-year-old boat, half the size of our usual vessel operating on the route, placing extreme limits on what comes and goes to Arran.
‘There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of lost business, visitors are uncertain [about coming].’
CalMac’s existing ferry fleet is aging and the need for regular maintenance and repairs has caused disruption for travel to and from the mainland.
Alfred has been operated between Caithness and Orkney and will be replaced by Pentalina for the nine-month loan.
The £9 million in government funding will cover berthing dues, fuel, commercial charter rate and other costs.
Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth said the agreement with Pentland Ferries was a key step in retaining a fully-crewed vessel to the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network.
She said: ‘The Scottish government is committed to improving the lifeline ferry fleet and better meeting the needs of island communities.
‘Since May 2021, we have bought and deployed an additional vessel in Loch Frisa, chartered Arrow and now Alfred to provide additional capacity, commissioned four new vessels and progressed investment to improve key ports and harbours.’