SHOPS on a number of Scottish islands have been forced to ration essential items amid widespread ferry cancellations owing to a broken-down vessel, it has been reported. 

Residents have complained of food shortages being imposed by local shops with islanders being restricted to just one carton of milk and one loaf of bread, our sister paper The Herald reports

It is understood that the Scottish Government is considering setting up a compensation fund for islands using cash from fines it has imposed on CalMac for underperformance.

It was also revealed that the ferry operator had been secretly hit with £3.5 million in performance fines by the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland in the space of one year. 

The reports come amid concerns about the reliability of Scotland’s ageing ferry fleet. 

READ MORE: CalMac says ‘ageing fleet’ to blame for major problems in Scotland's ferry network

Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator CalMac has been forced to provide an emergency ferry from one of Scotland’s busiest routes to serve the struggling islands in the Outer Hebrides.   

CalMac has insisted that all goods were being shipped and said it was unfair to suggest that any shortages were a direct result of the ferry issues. 

The Scottish LibDems have demanded a recall of the Scottish Parliament for an emergency statement over the state of the ferries following the reports. 

Specifically, the issue revolves around the MV Hebrides, one of CalMac’s oldest ferries, which was taken out of service on Tuesday for a third time in the space of a few weeks because of an issue with its CO2 freighting system, sparking safety concerns. 

It was hoped the ferry might be back in operation on Sunday after its loss led to major disruption.

For three days last week routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris were shut down. 

John Daniel Peteranna of the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group said restrictions on purchasing milk and bread were understandable if there was panic buying because of the transport issues. 

He said: “We have a senior manager from Scottish Water over visiting projects we are working on and struggling to believe this kind of thing happens in this day and age. 

“You would think they can just put another ferry on but then they say they can’t, just suck it up.

“The shops have been bare. There are three main shops, one on South Uist, one in Benbecula and one on North Uist. 

“People aren’t stupid, they know that there is no ferry and there is usually a daily lorry with fresh stuff. 

Ferry cancellations have led to restricted access on certain items such as milkCalMac has already come under scrutiny this year due to its "ageing fleet"

“It is the milk and the dairy stuff that is the priority. There is no milk produced locally. Maybe that is something we should look at as we seem to be isolated from the rest of Scotland. 

“We need to do something different because the government isn’t interested in helping us. Something needs to change.”

The operator had said in an emergency timetable plan brought in on Tuesday that all options for a relief vessel had been explored and said that vessels across the rest of the CalMac network will remain on their timetabled routes for the current time. 

Some islands, particularly South Uist, are reliant on a daily lorry crossing to supply shops. 

There were even reports that some had taken to sleeping in cars because of ferry cancellations. 

This led to North Uist Agricultural Show organisers stating on Tuesday that the Hosta Hall would be left open till 7pm for anybody who needed somewhere to shelter. 

The cancellations have also led to concerns over the impact on tourism.

Industry-led group Outer Hebrides Tourism said it was causing “extremely serious issues for both tourism and our wider community”.

The group called on the Scottish Government to compensate businesses that have suffered from the disruption. 

READ MORE: Derek Mackay breaks silence over CalMac ferries 'fiasco'

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth convened a resilience meeting to try and combat the situation and SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said the minister had agreed to look at whether a compensation scheme was possible. 

He said: “However, the meeting left CalMac and Transport Scotland in no doubt that the current situation is unendurable.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “CalMac forms part of the local resilience partnership.

“They remain in close local contact with communities and hauliers and are working with them to prioritise the movement of essential supplies. 

“This will be closely monitored, with feedback being obtained directly from island communities and local resilience partnerships providing a more rounded assessment of impact than transport operators alone can provide.”

Ferry cancellations have led to restricted access on certain items such as milk

The spokesman also confirmed an additional sailing was due to set off on Saturday evening between Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and Ullapool on the mainland to help move freight. 

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “During this latest disruption, we have shipped all the food deliveries we have been asked to take. 

“We prioritise food supplies and nothing has been left on the mainland. 

“Any shortages may be down to supermarket supply chain issues.”