A VITAL ferry, whose extended repairs caused massive travel disruption along the west coast, is to return to service today, five days ahead of schedule.

Complications during repairs to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry meant the boat was out of action for longer than expected.

Parts of the MV Clansman’s propulsion system have had to be sent to Denmark for specialist repair.

The repairs had knock-on effects for other services as CalMac re-shuffled its fleet.

Within days the company handled more than 12,500 calls from worried customers.

The vessel was due back in service on Wednesday, but will now be back in service today on the scheduled Oban-Coll-Tiree route.

The vessel’s return allowed MV Lord of the Isles to deliver an additional Oban to Lochboisdale sailing yesterday and will restart the postponed Lochboisdale-Mallaig service today as well as delivering the Mallaig-Armadale route as scheduled.

The additional sailings scheduled on the Barra to Eriskay service will continue until Tuesday.

“We appreciate the understanding of passengers who have been disrupted by this unavoidable repair,” said CalMac’s managing director, Robbie Drummond. “We are fully aware of the impact this has had on communities affected and would like to thank them for their patience during this period.

“I would also like to thank the staff who have worked so hard to continue to provide lifeline services throughout the disruption we have had to manage over the past weeks.

“With one major vessel out of action and no replacement it has been a difficult time for everyone and we can now all look forward to normal service being resumed again.”

CalMac has faced criticism over its ageing fleet and contingency plans after a wave of rearranged services – causing concern among passengers, communities and tourism operators.

Scotland’s main ferry operator has warned that passengers could face disruption this summer as a result of its ageing fleet.