A FRESH plea has been issued to people planning to travel to Cumbrae over the next few days as another busy weekend looms for the island ferry service.

CalMac has diverted another ferry, the MV Loch Tarbert, to the Largs-Cumbrae service after the elderly MV Isle of Cumbrae suffered a breakdown earlier in the week.

But the route is still operating at reduced capacity because of the long-term absence of its usual vessel, MV Loch Shira, which has been out of service since April 5 and isn't expected to return until mid-June because of damage to its vehicle ramps.

CalMac is encouraging customers, where possible, to travel as foot passengers to/from Cumbrae Slip and to use the frequent local bus service to get from there to Millport.

A spokesperson said: "When travelling with a vehicle, queues can be expected. Please plan ahead as your first choice of sailing may not be available and wait times may be extended."

Angus Campbell of the Cumbrae Ferry Users Group said: "CalMac have moved the MV Loch Tarbert to Largs, and will provide the main ferry operating the timetable during the day, supported by the MV Loch Riddon.

"CalMac hope this will give some improved reliability to the service.

"The Isle of Cumbrae will return to the Tarbert-Portavadie route.

"We continue to push for a larger vessel, and although CalMac hope to provide a larger vessel from mid May after the MV Finlaggan comes out of dry dock, there are a number of other network dependencies."

Mr Campbell also revealed that Mackleys, the company carrying out work on Millport's flood prevention scheme, is planning to bring in its own vessel to transport goods and vehicles to and from the island and ease pressure on the CalMac service - but that plans to introduce that alternative ship next week will not now happen.

The number of large commercial vehicles using the route has been blamed for the problems suffered by MV Loch Shira, which had been plagued with issues around its vehicle ramps for months before the situation became so serious that it had to be withdrawn from service a month ago.

Mr Campbell added: "We understand that Mackleys' plan to bring in their own vessel from May 7 will not happen from that date, due to delays in the expected availability of a vessel.

"We understand they are working with Calmac to look at trying to move their vehicles at less busy times, and considering other shipping companies to charter alternative vessels."

North Coast councillor Todd Ferguson , who lives on Cumbrae, said: "“The ongoing saga with the ferries looks set to continue as the Isle of Cumbrae has now been placed into the ‘retirement zone’ by CalMac.

“The SNP Scottish Government have overseen years of chaos on Scotland’s ferry network. I would suggest that it is them who should be placed in the retirement zone.

“The crazy thing here is that it is thanks to older boats, like the Isle of Cumbrae and the Loch Riddon, that CalMac have been keeping the entire network operational.

"If it wasn’t for those vessels, the system would have collapsed by now.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Cllr Todd Ferguson labels system crazy that ageing fleet helping support shortage of fleetCllr Todd Ferguson labels system crazy that ageing fleet helping support shortage of fleet (Image: North Ayrshire Conservatives)

“However, we cannot keep relying on these boats long term. The volume of HGVs travelling to the island on a daily basis is putting them under immense pressure.

“I’ve spoken with the new CEO, Duncan Mackison, requesting a bigger boat, so that we can deal with the capacity issues since the 'Shira' went out of service.

"The issue is there are almost no vessels left to move about the network.

“We are entering the busiest time of the year and businesses on the island desperately need the economic boost from our tourist market.

“If people can come across as foot passengers, then I’d strongly encourage them to do so. We have an excellent bus service that will drop you right in the middle of town.

“However, the real concern is that if we lose any more boats due to mechanical issues it will place unbearable pressure on island residents.

"We are very reliant on mainland connections for a lot of our services and employment.

“Something needs to change, and rapidly."

For the latest service updates see the 'Service Status' page at calmac.co.uk or follow the @CalMac_Updates feed on X (formerly Twitter).