Labour has accused the Scottish Government of incompetence as figures revealed “spiralling” cancellations impacting lifeline ferry services to many island communities.
State-owned ferry operator CalMac cancelled 40,989 sailings between September 2018 and April 2023, the figures obtained by Labour using freedom of information legislation show.
Non-weather related cancellations rose from 1,371 in 2017-18 to a peak of 5,805 in 2021-22, before dropping last year.
There were 4,620 sailings axed for reasons not related to the weather in 2022-23 – 237% higher than the number in 2017-18.
The data comes just days after it emerged sea trials for the Glen Sannox ferry – one of two delayed and over-budget vessels being built for CalMac by the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow – have been further held up due to last-minute changes.
Meanwhile, problems with the firm’s ageing vessels impacted sailings during the summer months.
Labour’s islands spokeswoman Rhoda Grant blamed the Government.
She said: “These spiralling levels of cancellations are a direct result of SNP incompetence.
“For years they have failed to modernise our ferry fleet and now the island communities are paying the price.
“The consequences of this chaos are huge for islanders, who miss hospital appointments and are cut off from loved ones, and they are a hammer blow to businesses.
“The SNP must get a grip of the mess they have made and deliver a national ferry building programme to modernise our lifeline ferry fleet and support Scottish shipbuilding.”
Transport Scotland said providing six new ferries for service across the Clyde and Hebrides is a “priority” for the Scottish Government.
A spokesperson said: “Should there be cancellations to CalMac services due to weather or technical issues, then a full refund will be provided to the customer.
“Statistics show that in 2022, of the 171,403 scheduled sailings across the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service network, 11,301 (6.6%) were cancelled.
“Of these, 1,830 (1.1%) were cancelled due to technical issues.
“We recognise the impact that disruption has regrettably had on our island communities and are fully committed to investing in our ferry services.
“There have been ongoing technical issues with vessels which resulted in delays to last year’s annual overhaul programme and cancellation of sailings.”
Transport Scotland is continuing to work with CalMac and CMAL, the body which owns both the ferries and harbour infrastructure, to “improve reliability and resilience”, its spokesperson added.
While some communities “have been more greatly impacted than others”, the spokesperson stressed: “Delivering six new major vessels to serve Scotland’s ferry network by 2026 is a priority for this Government.
“We have also provided funding to CalMac to charter the MV Alfred, which provides additional resilience for a nine-month period.”
A CalMac spokeswoman said: “These figures reveal that since May 2017, CalMac has only cancelled a very small percentage of sailings because of technical failures. More than 95% of all sailings went ahead in the past five years.
“The main reason why sailings are cancelled are due to poor weather, which can happen at any time in the year in the challenging waters off the west coast of Scotland.
“Regarding cancellations for reasons other than weather or for technical problems, more than 40% of these were Scottish Government-approved and involved vessels being moved around the network so that lifeline services could be preserved.
“More than a third were directly related to the global Covid pandemic, while the rest included pier work being carried out by harbour authorities, and berths not being available.
“We continue to work hard to prevent unscheduled breakdowns and look forward to welcoming 10 new vessels to the fleet over the next five years.
“This will have a huge effect on resilience and our ability to provide a quality, reliable services to customers.”