‘Not much joy’ on ferry complaints – but chance of an early bus on Sundays

The future is still unsettled for Kilcreggan’s historic pier – it has been used for 115 years, but now councillors say pontoons may be a better option.

There had been no progress with SPT officials in securing improvements for the Kilcreggan to Gourock ferry link, frustrated villagers heard last night (Tuesday).

Instead, it was confirmed again that pontoons are being considered so the Island Princess does not have to use Kilcreggan pier, while assurances have once again been given that the boat will be upgraded – while an additional bus service is being considered.

Commuters at the monthly meeting of Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council spoke out though about their fears for safety on the 16 year-old boat.

Councillor Robert Macintyre – Argyll and Bute’s representative on SPT – had been asked to speak at the authority’s operations committee meeting last month, voicing the levels of concern and asking for the previous timetable to be restored.

But community council chairman Nick Davies said when he spoke to Clltr Macintyre earlier that day:  “He indicated to me that there was not a great deal of interest from SPT  in the points that were made.”

Mr Davies added: “I think that above all the community’s frustration is that we are not getting any information out of them. If they are not telling us we assume the worst.”

Community council secretary Murdo MacDonald said the latest passenger numbers – showing an average fall over more than 20% compared to last year – were ‘catastrophic.’

SPT had promised in May that the back-up boat Cailin Oir would be put into service by operators Clydelink ‘in a few days’, so that the Island Princess can be upgraded – but more than 100 days later this has still not happened.

Councillor Maurice Corry was optimistic though that there would finally be some progress, and that he had spoken to Mark Aikman of Clydelink: “The replacement ferry is under trial at the moment. It is awaiting MCA certification.”

Maurice Corry said he was trying to secure an earlier bus on Sundays.

He said the timetables had been changed because of the MCA, and told the meeting that following requests from the public had ‘agreed provisionally’ to run an additional bus service from Coulport to Helensburgh on Sunday mornings, leaving perhaps two hours before the current earliest departure of 11.05.

Councillor George Freeman confirmed that Cllr Macintyre ‘didn’t get much joy from SPT, adding: “But none of us have got much joy from them in the last eight months or so.

“We told SPT all along that all we were interested in was a safe and reliable service.”

He said marine engineers had already started preparations for work on the Island Princess, and this would include alterations to the steep, narrow stairs which were currently ‘absolutely ridiculous’.

But villagers who rely on the ferry said this would not address their most serious concerns: “The problem is that the boats have both got the same draft,” said one.

Other members of the public recounted ‘scary’ experiences on the ferry in windy weather, saying ‘on one occasion  we were just getting thrown against the pier at Gourock’.

Another stressed: “We have got absolutely no gripe about the crew – they are dong their best – but at the end of the day that boat is not the right boat.”

Kilcreggan’s wooden pier has been used by ferries on a daily basis since the 19th century, but again it seemed that Argyll and Bute saw it as part of the problem:

Cllr Corry said: “The council are looking into putting in floating pontoons at the pier so people can get on at the lower deck.”

Mr Davies said he was grateful for the information, from councillors, ‘which is the most information we have had for some months’.

“There seems to be some light in the tunnel in upgrading the Island Princess. The pragmatist in me says we are stuck with these two vessels for the moment.”

But he added: “We have not had a lot of south westerly weather this summer and it is the south westerlies that will cause problems at Kilcreggan pier.”

3 Comments

  1. “We have not had a lot of south westerly weather this summer and it is the south westerlies that will cause problems at Kilcreggan pier.”
    And when there is an easterly the problem is at the Gourock pier!
    Never mind expect I will be going the long haul Thursday Night and Friday morning return ( I really love that after a night shift!)as Clydelink have posted “12/9 – High winds are forecast from 1200 tomorrow until Friday evening. Service is subject to distruption. Updates will appear accordingly”

  2. MCA are being stated as the reason for the change in timetable due to the need to meet the requirement for four ropes. This is not accurate. Under an FOI response from MCA it is clear that it drew the attention of Clydelink and SPT to follow the guidance provided in the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen (COSWP) in regard to the safe mooring for domestic passenger craft. To think that this was not in place from the commencing of the contract under a normal risk assessment process is surely alarming.

  3. COSWP does not state that 4 warps must be used; what it does say is that reduced mooring methods may be used with due consideration to circumstances and that a risk assessment must be carried out. A risk assessment must be carried out for mooring operations anyway, so there is no extra administrative burden for this.

    Paragraph 25.6.6 of COSWP does advise against the previously ubiquitous mooring practice of steaming against a warp, but it must be borne in mind that COSWP applies to all vessels from a rowing boat to a supertanker and the advice offered must necessarily be generic in nature; steaming against a warp is a perfectly safe practice in small craft like the Seabus or Island Princess, by the time weather conditions render it otherwise the vessel cannot operate safely anyway.

    Perhaps adverse publicity has forced Clydelink into what are overly cautious mooring techniques, unnecessary except in very inclement weather, with a commensurate effect on the timetable.

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