A HAULAGE firm which transports food to the Hebrides has blamed ferry failures for food shortages on the islands and rubbished CalMac’s suggestions supermarkets were to blame.

Grant Baxter, the transport manager for DR Macleod, which he said is responsible for getting around 95% of foodstuffs onto the islands, has told The National the blame for rationing on the Western Isles last week lay squarely with the ferry company, despite its claims the Co-op was at fault.

South Uist shoppers faced shortages last week after supplies were disrupted when a CalMac ferry broke down and islanders were restricted to buying just one loaf of bread and one carton in some retailers.

The island is reliant on a daily ferry service to supply its shops. 

In response to criticisms levelled at the ferry operator, a CalMac spokesperson said on Thursday: “Any shortages on the shelves are due to a supply chain issue with the Co-op, which has been going on for a while, and panic buying.”

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But Baxter – whose firm transports goods for the Co-op from the central belt to the Western Isles via Inverness – said this was not true and claimed the breakdown of the ageing ship MV Hebrides was the root of the problem.

Asked about the claim its supply chain was at fault, a spokesperson for the Co-op said there were “no specific availability issues”.

Baxter said: “The debacle was obviously caused by the fact that the vessel was not able to provide a service, which obviously slows up the process of getting goods to the islands.

“Goods still got to the islands but in a very roundabout way and obviously delays occurred so goods weren’t on the shelves as they should be.

“They were delayed by the fact that there weren’t adequate ferries to provide a service.

“When the vessel went out [Tuesday, August 2] they didn’t have a contingency plan for the first 48 hours so nothing moved, everything just stopped dead.

“We try and prioritise milk and bread but they’re not arriving on time because they’re using an alternative service from Skye or Mallaig to South Uist…instead of food getting delivered into the shops by dinnertime, they’re not reaching the islands until 10 o’clock at night for delivery the following morning, therefore the shops are without goods.

“It’s CalMac’s fault but they’re trying to get around the problem and to be fair to them, the local port and local managers are trying to do what they can but they’re trying to work an impossible situation.”

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In a statement in the name of managing director Robbie Drummond to the media on Thursday, CalMac initially claimed the problem was caused by supermarkets. But when challenged on this, the statement was updated to say issues with food supply “may have been caused by other reasons”.

Drummond issued an apology to islanders at the weekend and said the ferry service did not have a long-term funding settlement to ensure its resilience.

It comes amid a growing row about the reliability of the Western Isles ferry service, which is partly troubled by delays to new vessels currently being built in Port Glasgow.

The Tories and LibDems have both called for urgent action on the ferry service.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan said on Wednesday he had met twice with transport minister Jenny Gilruth in the last week, adding that politicians representing island constituencies “do little else other than raise issues around ferries”.