ARRAN'S main ferry will be out of action for four more months, it's been revealed.

MV Caledonian Isles hasn't operated on the Ardrossan-Brodick route since it was taken out of service in early January for its annual overhaul.

Later that month Caledonian MacBrayne said the 31-year-old ship's return to service would be delayed until early March due to the need for additional steelwork repairs.

But it's now understood that more extensive work will be required, costing £5m and lasting for an estimated 16 additional weeks - meaning the ship could be out of service for around seven months.

According to our sister title, The Herald, users have been told that the vessel needs "extensive steel work", leading to concerns that it is suffering rust issues.

A message to user groups said that the ferry operator had received clarification from the dry dock operator on the initial scope of "significant steel renewal and repair required" at a cost of £5m.

"Work has commenced to survey and scope the requirements for steel renewal and repair, and the estimated timescale for her return to service may be subject to change following a fuller assessment of repairs required," user groups were told.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald:

"I am sorry to report that this delay will have an impact on various routes across the CalMac network, and not just on the Ardrossan to Brodick service.

"Work to review vessel deployment plans is now underway, and we will communicate timetable changes by Monday, March 4.

"This is the earliest date we can confirm these changes as there are various options which need to be considered and evaluated for suitability."

The vessel was sidelined for over three months this time last year because of further steelwork and engine difficulties, with repair work then estimated at £1m.

It had been due to leave the yard after an overhaul before issues with the engines, steelwork and bearings were noted by engineers.

CalMac said of the latest issues: "Numerous surveys have been completed on MV Caledonian Isles during her life and every year works are completed to our satisfaction and that of the Classification Society.

"This year, the need for a significant level of steelwork has emerged during the overhaul process.

"Working with the repair yard and independent specialists, a carefully defined plan will be developed for repairs on a staggered basis, as doing them all at the same time could compromise the structural integrity of the vessel.

"We will provide a further update when we are able to do so.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: MV Isle of ArranMV Isle of Arran (Image: Colin McMillan/South Ayrshire on Camera)

"Our teams will be working exceptionally hard to assess every eventuality in terms of vessel deployment, with a view to minimising disruption for the communities and customers we serve."

Since early January the route has been served by the much smaller 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran, the oldest large ship in the CalMac fleet.

Additional tonnage on the route was initially provided by MV Alfred, the catamaran chartered from Orkney-based Pentland Ferries.

But within days of its introduction the Alfred could no longer use Ardrossan Harbour after the facility's owners, Peel Ports, shut the terminal's second berth - the 'Irish berth' on safety grounds.

That temporary closure on January 18 was later made permanent by Peel Ports.

The Alfred then provided a freight-only service between Brodick and Troon, but then had to depart for use on services in the Hebrides - and has now been withdrawn from service for its own overhaul.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: MV Alfred at Ardrossan's now-closed 'Irish berth'MV Alfred at Ardrossan's now-closed 'Irish berth' (Image: Charlie Gilmour)

Robbie Drummond, CalMac chief executive, said: “We know this news will cause concern and frustration for communities across the whole network, and we apologise for this.

“We will do the best we can in these circumstances, but it is unavoidable that there will be a knock-on effect on other routes on the network.

“MV Caledonian Isles has served North Ayrshire with distinction for over three decades, but like any ageing vessel the scope of work required in annual overhaul is likely to grow each year.

“Over a third of our vessels are now operating beyond their average life expectancy, and we invested record levels in annual maintenance in 2023.

“We are stretched to the absolute limit in terms of network deployment already, and the arrival of six major and ten small vessels in the coming years will provide much-needed resilience and reliability to the service.”

Reacting to the news, West Scotland Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said: Jamie Greene MSP said: “This latest revelation is just about the worst news possible for Arran and the entire CalMac network.

“This ageing vessel is over three decades old and is literally costing millions of pounds to repair and keep afloat.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: MV Caledonian IslesMV Caledonian Isles (Image: Stephen Kelly)

“Its recent absence has been devastating Arran’s economy. Its return was highly anticipated by residents and businesses, but has now been delayed by an estimated four more months.

“CalMac have made clear that they have deep concerns about the structural integrity of the ferry, which is a horrific scenario.

“The SNP Government’s record when it comes to Scotland’s ferry network has been nothing short of a farce.

“After 17 years in power they have no one to blame but themselves and I hope they pay a heavy price at the polls for it among our island communities.

“The people of Arran urgently need a full ferry service and I will be taking this up with ministers in Parliament with immediate urgency.”