A PASSENGER ONLY ferry is set to be called in to help ease capacity problems between Largs and Cumbrae, a local user group has revealed.

The commitment, according to the Cumbrae Ferry Users Group, was made by Caledonian MacBrayne at drop-in sessions held in Millport this week.

The ferry operator organised the sessions, held on Tuesday, April 23, to listen to island residents' concerns amid mounting anger at recent disruption to the service.

The route's main vessel, MV Loch Shira, has been out of service since April 5 because of damage to her vehicle ramps, and isn't expected back until mid-June. 

A similar problem forced the second vessel on the route, MV Loch Riddon, out of service for a shorter period.

CalMac said the problems with the ramps on MV Loch Shira were the result of the large number of commercial vehicles using the route in recent months - something that's been widely attributed to the ongoing work on Millport's £48 million flood protection scheme, being carried out by Van Oord UK Ltd and their subsidiary, Mackley Civil Engineering, and has sparked calls for consideration to be given to alternative means of bringing materials to the island.

The Cumbrae Ferry Users Group (CFUG) now says that in addition to a passenger-only vessel to help clear any backlogs in emergencies, it is now hoped that a much larger ship, capable of carrying even more vehicles than the 'Loch Shira', will be able to stand in on the route for a spell next month.

The group held talks with CalMac officials during their visit to the island on Tuesday.

A CFUG spokesperson said "Thank you to everyone who came to the CalMac drop in yesterday. I think they now have a much better sense of how the ferry issues are impacting people's lives.

"We are hoping to have MV Loch Fyne [36 cars) on from early to mid May, which will make a big dent in the queues both sides.

"Another piece of good news to come out of all our meetings is that CalMac are organising access to a passenger only vessel to run in emergencies. More details will be available shortly.

"Negotiations are also ongoing with Mackleys and NAC to try and have some materials brought in by other means than the ferry.

"Further infornation will be put out as soon as we can."