SCOTLAND'S west coast ferry network is facing major problems due to its ageing fleet of vessels, the managing director of CalMac has said.

Robbie Drummond was speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme after it emerged the vessel serving crossings to the Isle of Arran will be out of action until early May due to an engine failure.

The MV Caledonian Isles has been replaced with the smaller MV Isle of Arran, with lifeline services having to be prioritised for the island’s residents.

But Gavin Fulton, from the Arran Ferry Action Group, told the programme that the disruption is “making life extremely uncertain” for those who depend on the service.

He said: “As of yesterday lunchtime, out of six petrol stations, only one had petrol. Pubs have been running out of beer.

“More importantly, tourism, which is the lifeblood of Arran’s economy – tourists can’t get a booking on the boat.

“They don’t know whether they turn up at Ardrossan to be able to get to Arran, and if they do get to Arran, they don’t know if they’ll get back.”

He said the issues are not new for Arran, pre-dating both the coronavirus pandemic and the controversy surrounding the building of ferries in Port Glasgow.

However, he reported that more people are now talking about leaving the island, saying the situation is “intolerable” for those with serious health conditions who require travelling back and forth to attend hospital.

Fulton said the Scottish Government needs to acquire more vessels to provide extra capacity across the CalMac network.

Drummond apologised to customers on Good Morning Scotland, adding that the company is doing “absolutely everything we can” to minimise the impact for islanders.

He said: “I appreciate it’s an extremely difficult time for the Isle of Arran, and I apologise again for all of the disruption.

“But I can assure you that everyone at CalMac really cares. We’re working extremely hard to bring the service back to full operation, and we’re also doing all we can to minimise the impact in the meantime.”

Drummond said the amount of money being spent on maintenance has increased by 70% in the last five years.

“We’re now spending this year, something like £33 million on maintenance. Five years ago, that was only £21 million,” he told the programme.

When asked why vessels were facing issues with maintenance so often, he said: “We are running an ageing fleet. Nearly a third of our vessels are beyond their normal expected lifeline, so we are doing everything we can to keep our fleet going.

“What we do need is new vessels, and what we urgently need to see is a long-term plan for replacement vessels and replacement ports, and an accelerated procurement programme that starts to put in place a standard fleet that operates to standard ports.

“That will make a huge difference running across our network.”