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July 26 , 2008

Western Ferries

Taking on Giants


In the late 1960s, drawing on Scandinavian experience, Western Ferries pioneered roll-on roll off ferry operations in Scotland’s West Highlands and Islands. This innovative company’s original focus, was Islay, where its hitherto undreamt of frequency of service transformed that island’s access to the outside world. The company’s profitable and efficient operation was, however, deliberately sabotaged by heavily subsidised predatory pricing by the feather-bedded state owned competitor. This shameful policy, initiated at the highest political level, has been uncovered by recently released official correspondence held in the Scottish archives. The Islay service eventually succumbed, but the company’s service across the Firth of Clyde between Inverclyde and Cowal, not only survived, but, in the face of many challenges, flourished to become by far Scotland’s busiest and most profitable ferry route. Its modern cherry red ferries run like clockwork, from early till late, 365 days a year, employing some 60 people locally. It contributes much back into the community it serves including free emergency runs, whenever required, in the middle of the night. What made all this possible was the extraordinary dedication of a succession of enthusiastic, determined and above all colourful individuals. This is their story.
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