UNCERTAINTY surrounds future visits to Helensburgh by an iconic steamship due to the reported condition of the town's pier.

The Waverley is due to sail from the pier next month on a journey which, according to the paddle steamer's website, is 'sold out'.

But a report seen by the Advertiser states that the pier, which is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, has fallen into such disrepair that the safety of passengers on the vessel can no longer be guaranteed.

Helensburgh Seafront Development Project (HSDP) warns that a visual inspection earlier this year found that "substantial degradation" had taken place.

And it warns: "Those at risk involve members of the public as well as the crew members of vessels using the pier.

"The severity of harm to members of the public or crew members is likely to be high.

"An incident involving a vessel such as the Waverley would be financially harmful to all parties."

HSDP members conducted a visual inspection in March, as a follow-up to a report produced by architects Aecom in 2016.

Among them was the author of the report, David Cantello, who served as the Queen's Deputy Master at Faslane and as the facility manager for jetties.

Mr Cantello's report states that some bollards on the pier have hold down bolts missing and are misaligned. There is also reportedly evidence of loss of structural strength in the supporting structure.

The report adds: "The extent of that degradation cannot be known for certain but the forces exerted on it by vessels such as the Waverley are still the same as when it was designed.

"As the original design specification is not known and there is, therefore, no evidence of the Factor of Safety used in the design, it is not possible to establish whether the current operations, such as the berthing/unberthing of Waverley at the pier exceed safe limits for the bollards and the underlying structure in their current state.

"It is not unreasonable to postulate that a foreseeable incident could involve the Waverley attempting to 'spring off' the pier by coming ahead on its forespring in order to bring the stern out and the resultant forces on the bollard used for springing off, causing it to fail catastrophically.

"Thus presenting a significant hazard to members of the public on the pier head from the ship's berthing hawser whipping back along the pier.

"Such incidents are not unknown and the likelihood of severe injury or even fatality would be high."

Vivien Dance, a director of the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said: "This news is a real punch in the solar plexus, although it is something that has been predicted for some time given the condition of the pier.

"The Waverley's visits are a terrific boost to Helensburgh and she features in a great deal of the publicity for the town.

"The impact on the local economy if the Waverley is no longer able to call at Helensburgh pier will be significant."

Waverley Excursions Ltd said it was unaware of any plans to stop trips to Helensburgh.

The paddler is currently offering cruises on the south coast of England and the Thames. Her next Helensburgh call – and her last of the 2018 season – is currently due to take place on Saturday, October 13 as part of a cruise to Blairmore and Loch Long.

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesman said: “We are awaiting the publication of a report based on the most recent independent, structural inspection of the pier.

"Once we are possession of the report, a decision will be taken on the appropriate next course of action.”