‘Dedicated’ ferries - but not till 2026

Two new ferries are to be built dedicated to the Uig-Tarbert and Uig-Lochmaddy routes according to a press release from Transport Scotland on Wednesday – however, they will not be delivered before 2026.

The announcement means that the still unnamed “Hull 802” will no longer be used on the routes leading to increased speculation about whether the vessel will ever put to sea.

Dedicated ferries for the two routes were argued for all along by island interests, prior to the disastrous Ferguson order being placed.

Transport Scotland said: “They will be built to the same specification as the existing ferries under construction for Islay. This will provide a more standardised vessel type that can be used on a variety of different routes, providing potential economies of scale and enhanced public value.”

The statement said “ the contract will be awarded before the end of the year. The overall project costs are estimated at around £115 million, including allowance for minor port improvements”.

No mention was made of a completion date though Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL said it meant “a total of six major vessels will be replaced by 2026”. There were immediate questions about what happens in the meantime.

When the Islay ferries order was placed with a Turkish yard in March, the projected delivery times for two ferries were in late 2024-25, suggesting that it will be at least 2026 before Lochmaddy and Tarbert welcome their dedicated ferries.

Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth said the vessels would deliver “dedicated services to communities in the peak season rather than the shared vessel operation currently in place. It will also allow consideration of all options to deploy Vessel 802 on an alternative route ...All the options will be discussed with island communities at the appropriate time”.

Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chair of the Comhairle’s Transportation Committee, said: Our communities deserve better ferry services than we have been getting and this is a major step forward, one that I hope can be built on in the development of lifeline island travel services.”