GOVERNMENT transport chiefs have been branded “clowns” for building a £42 superferry which is too big to berth.
The MV Loch Seaforth is currently sailing up and down the west coast of Scotland on “crew familiarisation exercises”.
The 116m-long vessel, part of a £70m project to improve the service between Ullapool and Lewis, is too big for the facilities in Stornoway.
The ship should have started ferry services in the summer of last year but the Scottish Government admitted yesterday it will be May at the earliest before the pier in Stornoway is upgraded.
Islanders are furious at the bungle.
Transport Scotland, which owns ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, revealed in 2012 that it would replace the two ships on the route with a single, much larger vessel.
Stornoway haulier David Wood said: “Only a clown would come up with that stupid idea.
“The only ports it can use near the Western Isles is Ullapool and Stornoway. It’s suicidal.”
To add insult to injury, the MV Loch Seaforth recently visited Stornoway during its “crew familiarisation”.
Mr Wood said: “It came to Stornoway, it did a big turn and went back out.”
The vessel, built in Flensburg, Germany, has faced a number of setbacks.
Despite islanders being told they would have it by the end of last summer it didn’t arrive in Scotland until October.
Now delays in Stornoway have pushed back the start day yet again.
In the meantime, the two-ship service has continued to operate but even that will stop for cars for five weeks in May after the decision to carry out an upgrade at Ullapool.
Donald Macarthur, a Director of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “The very fact that the Scottish Government even think that doing this work in May is a viable option shows how out of touch and far removed they are from the communities which they are meant to serve.”
Speaking after the first meeting of the government ferry task force on Thursday, Transport Minister Derek Mackay, said: “Stornoway Port Authority estimate the work required for the berthing of the new vessel will now finish in early February.
“Ultimately, we would like to see the infrastructure works completed and the MV Loch Seaforth fully deployed on the Stornoway-Ullapool route by the end of May, and all the organisations involved have agreed to work towards this target.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We have agreed to fund the MV Isle of Lewis [the current passenger ferry] to remain on stand-by until users are satisfied with the reliability and resilience of the new vessel.”