ISLANDERS are demanding an “emergency intervention” from Transport Minister Kevin Stewart as they warned they could be forced into “rationing” spaces on ferries.

Members of the Mull and Iona ­Ferry Committee made the plea as a result of “CalMac’s latest proposed service cuts” which they said means the main ferry serving their islands will be redeployed to cover the ­service from Oban to Lochboisdale in South Uist.

The committee said it was given just seven days’ notice of the change, which is due to begin in the second half of May, and it has “torn up” the timetable they rely on.

Speaking about the situation in Mull and Iona, committee chair Joe Reade said: “We have no option but to consider rationing ferry space. This is where things have got to now.

“For affected businesses across all the islands, it is now time to start compensating for lost business.

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“Hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into Port Glasgow to keep Ferguson’s afloat [the Port Glasgow yard building two delayed new ferries] but nothing has yet been offered to all the businesses across the Hebrides who together employ thousands.”

In a letter to Stewart, Reade and the committee branded ­CalMac’s handling of the situation as ­“chaotic”. It warned the change to services will see them “strangled”, with locals unable to get to the ­mainland when needed and tourists unable to visit.

Reade said: “While ways have been found to maintain current ­service ­levels to every other Hebridean ­island, Mull and Iona are alone in having our only major vessel ­withdrawn and not replaced with a similar capacity ­vessel.”

He told Stewart the changes planned by CalMac would result in about 250 fewer car spaces and nearly 7000 fewer passenger spaces on boats to Mull and Iona every day.

Reade continued: “We are ­currently unable to book travel on or off the island via Oban until almost June. Pretty much every sailing is ­showing as full, and not just for vehicles but for foot passengers also. This is ­absolutely unprecedented.

“Our islands are being strangled during the second half of May as a ­result of this latest deterioration.

“Islanders cannot leave, unless they made arrangements weeks ago. Tourists, absolutely essential to our economy, will be turned away.

“Our tour boat operators who ­depend on day-trippers from Oban will have their business decimated just as the summer season gears up. The Mull Rugby club may have to cancel its main fundraising event of the year, The Mull Sevens.”

With the “ferry system in utter ­chaos”, Reade said islanders had “no confidence” the MV Isle of Mull would return to its usual service at the end of this month. He urged ­Stewart to hold “an emergency ­meeting with CalMac to try to “find solutions” to its ferry problems.

While Reade said residents on Mull and Iona were “loath to make this an island-against-island issue”, they questioned whether it was “really equitable that every other service is maintained at the current capacity through May, but Mull has its only major vessel removed”.

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Stewart said he “fully understands the challenges facing our island ­communities” and “regrettably there have been ongoing technical issues with vessels resulting in delays to the annual overhaul programme and ­cancellation of sailings”. The ­minister added: “There are­ ­communities which have been greatly impacted and we fully recognise the need to ­improve confidence in services.”

He said the Scottish Government was continuing to work with CalMac and others to “improve reliability and resilience across our networks” but stressed operational decisions

regarding the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services lie with CalMac.