FERRY operator Western Ferries has seen a £400,000 rise in profits as it continues to consider plans for a potential return to serving the island of Islay.

The latest full-year figures from the company, which operates the Gourock to Dunoon car and passenger ferry service, saw pre-tax profits increase from £2.3 million to £2.7m.

Revenue rose in 2017/18 to £8.5m, up £500,000, while operating expenses increased from £5.7m to £5.8m.

Company accounts for the year ending March 31 show it provided almost 32,500 sailings, but cancelled only 56 – a service reliability of almost 100%. It said around 400 extra sailings were put on to meet peak demand, making the Gourock-Dunoon route frequency the highest for any route in Scotland.

It also continued to provide the blue light, out-of-hours sailings to transfer emergency patients from Cowal to hospitals in Inverclyde and Glasgow, at no cost to the NHS.

Western Ferries said its buoyant results were down to the overall resilience of its services, the hard work and professionalism of its workforce – 90% of whom are Dunoon-based – and the fine weather during the summer of 2018.

It also noted the fuel efficiency of its new vessels – Sound of Soay, Sound of Seil, Sound of Shuna and Sound of Scarba – which made them among the most environmentally friendly operations in the country.

Gordon Ross, Western Ferries managing director, said: “Once again we have delivered a near 100% reliable service to our customers, by far the best in Scotland. We have continued the process of investing in new ferries and our terminals, which better ensure the resilience of Western Ferries’ service.

“Our environmental record is also a source of great pride to the team at Western Ferries.”

The financial year saw the completion of the replacement second berth at McInroy’s Point in Gourock, and a £3.5m investment in the replacement second berth at Hunter’s Quay, Dunoon.

Ross said the operator was continuing discussions with Transport Scotland over a potential dedicated freight service to link Islay to the Ayrshire coast. He said: “Islay could be a big part of Western Ferries’ future plans going forward for 2020. However, further in-depth discussions with multiple partners will be required before any dedicated freight service can become a reality.”