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The Campbeltown - Ballycastle Ferry Service


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24/12/10 Some seasonal cheer from Kintyre Express.com who have announced they will run a ferry service in 2011. More details from their web site however in summary it's a passenger-only service capable of carrying 12 passengers and will run Friday through Monday from 27th May 2011 until 26th September 2011.
23/10/10 This web site has been offline for some 7 years and unfortunately the ferry service is in pretty much the same state of non-operation and polticial indecision that it was in when this site was last active. In fact it appears that the only people to "benefit" from the ferry service since it last ran in 1999 are the myriad consultants who've been engaged in evaluating its feasability. Sadly it seems that there might well be a will but thus far, not a way :-(.

I'd held off updating the ferry section as I'd hoped that "no news was good news", however it appears that "no news" was just that - no news.

At the end of September the Campbeltown Courier reported that a meeting had taken place between the Transport Minister, Nicol Stephen, and the group formerly known as the Kintyre Ferry Action Group (now known as the Dalriada Business Action Group). The salient points from the meeting were -

  • No decision has been taken on how to move the ferry service forward (no surprise there then)
  • It might not be feasible to run a service for 11 months of the year (not much of a surprise)
  • The business community had not been consulted during pervious feasibility studies (big surprise)!

Given the "apparent" level of due diligence given to pre-tender feasibility studies this last point in particular appears slightly astonishing. When taken in conjunction with the volume of tenders received, i.e. zero, it would also suggest a lack of consultation with the ferry operators, which leads one to question who was involved in the consultation process? Without wanting to sound too cynical it would appear to me that someone hasn't properly made the distinction between "navel" and "naval".


The deadline for submission of tenders to run the service passed last Friday (21st) and as yet there's been no official statement. General consensus has it that no operators have come forward, and the lack of official comment points towards some background negotiations aimed at encouraging one of the interested parties to put something together. It does however make the likely start date of this summer look more precarious than anyone would ever have imagined in their worst nightmares.

It seems to me quite incredible that given the prolonged period of negotiation, discussion, consultation and the like which preceded the tendering process, the commercial attractiveness of the service doesn't seem to have been given due consideration. How can those in charge of the process have taken so long to get to this point only to find no operator is interested - surely they solicited opinion from potential operators? If anyone from the Scottish Executive reads this (which I know has happened in the past) and feels like replying, I'd be only too happy to publish the response.

Russ McLean of Argyll Ferries gave me the following background on their position -
"Our company Argyll Ferries, is unlikely to accept the invitation to tender from the Scottish Executive as extraordinarily, Argyll & Bute Council refused us permission to berth the Campbeltown Ferry Claymore at the Campbeltown Ferry Terminal over Christmas, nor would they let us bring her in for the New Year".

"Given that ship reclassification and route preparation measures could not wait if a 1st June 2003 deadline were to be met, the council were given until 7th February 2003 to provide permission to bring the Claymore back to Campbeltown Ferry Terminal and they refused. So for us that is it. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder and supporting this endeavour they have acted in an appalling, shortsighted and bureaucratic manner that may cost the town dear".

Again if anyone from Argyll & Bute feels that they'd like to reply I'll be only too happy to post that here.

As a result of the uncertainty over the ferry operation, concerns are now being voiced over the future of the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas. Now the single largest employer in the area they have always stated that their long term commitment was contingent on the service being available.

The whole thing really beggar's belief .......

26/01/03 Another announcement from the Scottish Executive which indicates steady but slow progress towards the reintroduction of the ferry service. The tender has now been issued to prospective bidders with the tender to be returned by 21 February. There is still hope that a service will be possible for this summer - no official statement is available but the word on the street is June - here's hoping.

Yet another announcement that something is happening ... without anything actually happening ... if you see what I mean.

On the 11th October the Scottish Executive announced their plans to re-instate the service. This starts with a 4 week public consultation period where relevant parties have the opportunity to pass comment on the draft specification. Once these are processed the Executive will move to completing and issuing the formal tender document. It is still hoped to be able to complete this in time to run the service in summer 2003.

The draft specification states that the service will -

  • initially be awarded for a 5 year term
  • operate for at least 11 months of the year
  • be subsidised by no more than £1.0 million per annum

What's the bottom line? The process is being elongated beyond anyone's worst nightmare. It looks to me as if they will now struggle to get a service off the ground for next year although something will probably run before the end of 2003. If it does, it will suffer from the lack of advertising and promotion it needs right now to help it succeed next year - which sets up great expectations for 2004. Then again I'd love to be proved wrong............


Had an email from Russ McLean. He was one of the parties previously interested in operating the run and has been a proponent of the service from the outset. He's looking at running a freight only service for this year. His email stated -

"We have a 50/50 chance of putting the Claymore on this summer with a freight certificate. A freight certificate is relatively inexpensive, and can be done without major subsidy".

"With Claymore plying back and forth between Campbeltown and Ballycastle on freight only, we thought it would be worthwhile approaching Argyll & Bute Council, Argyll & Islands Enterprise, Moyle District Council and the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland to see if they would assist us in raising the freight certificate to a passenger and car certificate so that we can put a proper "warm-up" ferry on this summer. I personally don't fancy turning tourists away from the ship saying it is "freight only". The cost is a lot less than was mooted last year at £17,500 per day subsidy quoted by CalMac for the mv Isle of Arran. Our own figures work out at £1,000 each per day for the four organisations".


The Scottish Office announced in a press release 30th January that the ferry service will be offered to tender, with a view to commencement in 2003. The main points are -

  • Service will only run given a suitable operator
  • Contract period will be for five years
  • The service must run for at least 11 months of the year
04/12/01- Received an update from the Scottish Office concerning the meeting held on the 26th of November - they have posted the Press Release on their web site. It looks more and more like there is an acceptance of the desperate need for the service to run, but an unwillingness to foot the potential bill.