The scene at Lochmaddy after mv Hebrides overshot her berth at the pier to run aground in front of waiting passengers. Photo: Norman MacAskill
There's a need to 'look again' at the positioning of the Lochmaddy harbour yacht pontoons says one eye-witness who watched as the Caledonian MacBrayne 'MV Hebrides' ferry crashed through the pontoons when it overshot its pier berth on Sunday (September 25th).
Norman MacAskill, of South Uist based haulage company ND MacAskill & Son, was parked in the vehicle queue waiting to board the 'MV Hebrides' on Sunday when the incident occurred at 11.05am, as the ferry was approaching Lochmaddy. “You knew right away when she came around the corner and the speed she was going at that this wasn't a normal manoeuvre,” he said.
“She ploughed into the pontoons and then they steered her towards the small island at the end of that pier and that's where she ran aground.
“It was a smooth stop, not a sudden jolt, she just grounded slowly. Then they must have found the reverse gear and backed her out, turning to head out to sea, but the wind caught her and she swung and banged off the end of the pier.”
Ferry operators CalMac have advised that a 'technical failure' led to the ferry being unable to reduce speed sufficiently for the routine docking procedure; and said the boat had struck both pontoons in Lochmaddy harbour and the seabed. There were a total of 76 passengers and crew on board, and fortunately no one was injured during the crash.
However, the situation could have been a lot different had there been any yachts berthed at the pontoons. Opened in 2014, the Lochmaddy Marina pontoons offer capacity to berth 26 yachts and formed part of the £400,000 Lochmaddy harbour development project.
“It's a good job there were no yachts tied up at the pontoons at the time,” commented Norman. “If there had been yachts there I think there could have been a lot of injuries. It asks the question in my opinion of are these pontoons in a safe place? I think that needs to be looked at again off the back of what's happened. If there had been yachts berthed there with people in them, it could have been a very different story.”
He added: “People want to know why the vessel didn't stop. And some have taken badly to the disruption. It's usually one of the most reliable routes I think and the ferry is one of the best in the CalMac fleet – we'd hate to think she'd have to go because of this.”
CalMac's Operations Director, Drew Collier, assured on Sunday that 'a full formal investigation' into the 'MV Hebrides' grounding incident is underway. “We are doing everything possible to ease disruption for our customers and apologise for the undoubted inconvenience which is being experienced,” said Mr Collier.
“We are grateful for the support, patience and understanding we have received from passengers and we ask that our customers continue to bear with us while we work to sort out the best alternatives possible.
“The safety of our passengers, crew and vessel is paramount and everyone can be assured that a full formal investigation is underway.”
Passengers are advised to check CalMac's website (www.calmac.co.uk) and social media channels for updates on alternative travel plans, or call 0800 066 5000 for more details.