CUMBRAE residents have pleaded for a "much improved" ferry service to the island after a major breakdown on the main vessel linking the island with Largs.

More than 130 people attended a public meeting in Millport on April 9 to air their concerns at the standard of service currently being provided by CalMac.

The meeting was called after the ferry operator withdrew the usual ferry on the route, MV Loch Shira, from service on April 5 for repair to both of its vehicle ramps.

The decision was made following the discovery of cracks in the hinge on one of the ramps which CalMac said was "beyond repair".

The company has since said that the vessel could be out of service for more than two months while replacement parts are manufactured in Poland, transported, fitted and tested.

CalMac redeployed the much smaller, and much older, MV Loch Riddon to provide cover, but the stand-in vessel's lower vehicle capacity led to waits of up to four hours for cars and vans on Monday.

Extra capacity was provided by the redeployment of a second vessel from Tuesday onwards.

Issues with MV Loch Shira's forward ramp have been plaguing the 2006-built ferry since last October.

The Cumbrae Ferry Users Group, which organised Tuesday's meeting, described the vessel's latest mechanical troubles as a "catastrophic breakdown".

Angus Campbell, chair of the group, said: “We know Cumbrae is loved and enjoyed by visitors from far and wide, and we want to assure everyone that Millport and the Isle of Cumbrae are very much open for business.

"The community and businesses on Cumbrae look forward to welcoming visitors for wonderful seaside experiences this summer.

“We want to encourage people coming to our island for the day to travel as foot passengers on the ferry if at all possible.

"The ferry is a short distance from the train station in Largs, and there is a convenient and quick bus service connecting the ferry with Millport which will make your travel plans easy.

"The message is 'Please come, and if you can, please leave your car behind'.

“Our call for people to prioritise public transport supports our work as a carbon neutral island.

"Additionally, recent issues with the large ferry which serves the island mean capacity for cars is more limited than usual, and it will remain more limited for the weeks leading into the summer.

"We are pleased to be able to confirm that the full normal summer timetabled service is being delivered by CalMac so the sailings you see on your timetable will take place.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors to enjoy our island over summer 2024.”

Frustrations at the meeting were directed towards CalMac, the Scottish Government and North Ayrshire Council.

The meeting heard calls for political support around four key issues, including a call for an independent review into the breakdown of MV Loch Shira, which has been plagued, and a more community-focussed approach in times of disruption.

There were also pleas for NAC to consider an alternative way of getting construction materials for the Millport flood defence scheme to the island after CalMac admitted that the damage to MV Loch Shira's ramps had been caused by the large number of commercial vehicles using the ferry.

The Scottish Government also came under fire for the long wait for a new ship to join the CalMac fleet to cover the Cumbrae route.

Mr Campbell added: "Although we do welcome the proposed plans to build new vessels to replace some of the older vessels, we remain frustrated that no vessel suitable for Cumbrae will be built until 2026, which is 10 years after promised by the Scottish Government."