Happy New Year everyone! After a relatively calm period at the start of December, the wind and rain returned for the end of the month. Thankfully, we weren’t hit as badly as some other parts of the country by Storm Gerrit, but it was still wild enough to mean that we had a full Harbour over Christmas, with boats sheltering from the worst of the weather.
We welcomed the New Year again this year with another amazing firework display by the Ronja Commander from the end of the Outer Breakwater. There were a couple of test fireworks at 8pm and 10pm, then a full display at midnight, again supplemented fireworks from the other side of the bay, organised by some local residents. It’s becoming quite a tradition, and not even the rain that had come on by midnight seemed to dampen this year’s display!
The month started with us welcoming two new vessels to the Harbour. Scottish Sea Farms new crew transfer vessel, the Bo-Ruag, which was built and designed by Flugga Boats in Shetland arrived first (actually at the end of November). She’s fully enclosed and intended to make the transfer from Mallaig to the sites in Loch Nevis safer, faster and more comfortable for the staff. Meanwhile, Western Isles Cruises new Red Bay RIB, ‘The Bigger Dipper’ arrived in Mallaig on 5th December, designed to take over from the Arwen in carrying the school pupils to the small isles, as well as undertaking other charter work.
Landings of Sprats continued throughout December, with the Caralisa once again the only vessel fishing for Sprats. It’s been good to see the activity, even if it meant that Caralisa Fresh Prawns and Fish wasn’t able to supply prawns for Christmas dinners this year! The pump is still in-situ, ready to see what the start of January brings.
As I mentioned last month, we have commissioned MKA Economics to undertake an Economic Impact Assessment, and they were in Mallaig for a few days at the start of December to meet with some of the key stakeholders. It was an interesting process for me, running through the history of the Masterplan and the developments to date taught me that I assume people know much more than they do about our plans! Although our ultimate aim as a Harbour Board is still to be able to build a new North Breakwater and relocate the ferry operations to this area, we are realistic about when we might be able to achieve this. In the meantime, we will continue to try and move forward with smaller projects for the benefit of those using the Harbour. Some of these are pretty straightforward, but some, like the new berths and dredging in the Outer Harbour will still require significant investment, and we are hopeful that the Economic Impact Assessment will give us the evidence we need to secure the grants required to make these projects a reality. When we published the Masterplan, the Outline Business Case that accompanied it had a resident population for Mallaig of about 900. As of 2011, 442 residents were recorded as being in employment, and Mallaig Harbour was the main employer, supporting approximately 200FTE jobs. Given the publicity recently about the reduction in the population in Mallaig of 18% between 2003 and 2020, and the changes in the fishing industry during this period, it will be good to revisit this, and have more up to date figures. The population reduction, to 680 in 2021, seems slightly surprising to me, and some of you may have seen me on BBC Alba earlier in the month talking about this along with Michael Currie and Dawn MacPhie.
You may have also seen that the public consultation for the next Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service (CHFS3) opened on 15th December, and runs until 8th March 2024. Scottish Minister’s preferred option would be a direct award of the new contract rather than a competitive bidding process. This would be subject to satisfactory due diligence being undertaken. The consultation is an opportunity for those who have asked for change to contribute and help the Scottish Government shape the future of these ferry services, which are vital to our islands. You can access the consultation from Transport Scotland’s website, www.transport.gov.scot/consultations/
Still on ferries, the two new vessels being built in Turkey to serve on the Little Minch Routes (between Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbert) have been named MV Claymore and MV Lochmor after a public vote on a shortlist of eight names. Having started my working life commuting from Mallaig to Eigg on the original Lochmor, you can guess where my vote went! These two vessels are due to be delivered to CMAL in 2025, and will have capacity for 450 passengers and 100 cars or 14 commercial vehicles. These are two of the six larger vessels being replaced at the moment, and CMAL also hope to start the process of replacing the smaller vessels in 2024, beginning with seven of the ‘Loch’ class vessels in the first phase. New vessels for Mallaig would come in the second phase of this small vessel replacement programme.