AN islands councillor has said the CalMac ferry situation as at 'crisis point' after alarming figures showed the additional burden on fleet repairs.

Since the beginning of the CalMac franchise five years ago, the cost of repairs and maintenance to the fleet has risen by 23 per cent to £17.3 million.

CalMac’s services comprise the UK’s largest ferry operation, with a network of 29 services stretching from Stornoway to Campbeltown.

The list includes the under-pressure Cumbrae-Largs route, which has been severely impacted by breakdowns this year - with the MV Loch Shira still out of service.

Labour councillor Alex Gallagher, who is portfolio holder for islands with North Ayrshire, said the issues are having a major problem on island life.

He said: "We in the North Coast are particularly well aware of the situation, particularly with the larger capacity MV Loch Shira having been offline and the range of breakdown issues. It has been very debilitating to the service and the people of Cumbrae.

"Now they have had their combined local travel passes withdrawn and face having to pay hundreds of pounds more for annual travel - it really has had quite a bad impact on the Largs to Cumbrae service.

"The average life span of the fleet is now 23 years but ferries are now expected to perform miracles. The boats serving Largs and Cumbrae are worn out and not even maintainable - it is a crisis situation. The tragedy is the MV Loch Shira isn't anywhere near 23 years old, but it is in trouble as it has been pushed harder than many of the other ferries. It is now going out of service more frequently and for longer periods."

Scottish Labour’s Islands spokesperson Rhoda Grant said: “The SNP have abandoned island communities and left Scotland’s lifeline ferry fleet to rust. Years of neglect have left Scotland’s ferry fleet in a pitiful state, and their catastrophic mismanagement of the Ferguson’s Marine contracts made a bad situation worse.

"We desperately need some strategic thinking in the new ferry plan – something that has been sorely lacking so far.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the Caldonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) fleet is ageing and that’s why we are delivering new tonnage to support our communities by working with CMAL, CalMac, MSPs, community representatives and others to develop investment programmes - at least £580 million over the next five years - for major vessels and small vessels.

“CalMac, as the operator of the Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services, are required to keep the vessels seaworthy and in a good and efficient state of repair. This includes maintain the classification of the vessels with the relevant Classification Society as well as complying with all other regulations and requirements.”

“Ferries throughout Europe generally have a 30 year service life provided they are regularly maintained and serviced throughout this period. Vessels that carry on after the 30 years period will have increased maintenance costs as equipment will require replacement as opposed to serviced.”