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CalMac ferry maintenance costs almost double to £36.5m in just six years

By Philip Murray

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CalMac said its maintenance costs had jumped from just over £20m to more than £36m in just six years.
CalMac said its maintenance costs had jumped from just over £20m to more than £36m in just six years.

Maintenance costs at CalMac have almost doubled over the past six years and now sits at record levels.

The under-fire ferry operator, which has been hit by a string of bad publicity in recent years due to breakdowns of its ageing fleet and delays to the arrival of new vessels, confirmed the details as it revealed it has seen some recent improvements in the reliability of its ships.

The details emerged after the latest annual report for David MacBrayne Ltd (DML), and a separate report for its main operating subsidiary, CalMac, were lodged this week.

The company also posted an £18.6 million net profit for the year ended March 2023, but this was due in large part to DML’s decision to sell its 50 per cent stake in Solent Gateway Ltd. The sale of that asset to Associated British Ports raised a one-off £22.4 million cash injection which helped to offset operational losses of £4.9m for the latest financial year.

Commenting on the surge in maintenance costs in recent years, CalMac claimed these were a reflection of the company’s “determination” to provide a reliable ferry service to west coast communities.

The annual report showed that CalMac spent £36.5m on maintenance and its annual overhaul programme for the fleet during the financial year. With one third of vessels now over 30 years old and operating beyond their life expectancy, the company spend had been essential to provide a lifeline service to island communities and is up from £20m in 2017. Transport Scotland and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd also contributed funding to support maintaining the fleet. Actual reliability was at 95%, up from 93% the previous year.

Duncan Mackison, CalMac's Interim CEO, said: "CalMac has been operating in extremely challenging conditions in recent years. However, we have been doing everything in our power to provide a lifeline service to the communities we serve and that is why we are investing in maintenance at record levels.

"DML's decision to sell its stake in Solent Gateway Ltd is an example of our entrepreneurial spirit and has supported our balance sheet this financial year."

The DML report also shows CalMac operated 169,929 sailings over the 12-month period, the equivalent of 465 per day. The total number of sailings is an 11% increase on the previous financial year (152,275).

The fleet benefitted from the arrival of MV Loch Frisa in June 2022, and she now serves Mull on the Oban-Craignure route and has freed up MV Coruisk to support other parts of the network. Transport Scotland funded the lease of MV Alfred, a catamaran, from Pentland Ferries, in February 2023 to support the CalMac fleet. Her addition proved invaluable whilst MV Hebridean Isles was in for maintenance, and MV Alfred will continue to support the network in 2024.

Mr Mackison added: "This report shows that we are moving in the right direction albeit with a financial loss this year. However, we know that the service hasn't always been up to the standards it needs to be and that some communities have felt the brunt of this more than others. We have been and will continue making a real effort to engage and listen to the people we serve and learn from recent challenges, and we are committed to improving.

"The arrival of six new major and seven small vessels in the next few years should transform the service across the whole network. The Transport Secretary and the communities we serve have made it clear that they want the next phase of the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services contract to be different, and we share that desire. CalMac's aim is to be flexible, responsive and trusted and we will work hard with the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to build closer relationships with all our stakeholders."

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