Ferry crisis deepens with new delays

Fury has grown over the islands ferry debacle as it emerged that there will be further delays to the completion of vessel “802” – the unfinished hulk which is already five years late for arrival on the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy route.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 17th February 2022, 9:23 am
Updated Thursday, 17th February 2022, 9:23 am
There are now even more delays to the construction of new ferries at the nationalised yard. Pic: John Devlin.
There are now even more delays to the construction of new ferries at the nationalised yard. Pic: John Devlin.

In a quite astonishing development, the “turnaround director” at the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow, Tim Hair, submitted a last-minute report – after he had supposedly signed off from his £2 million role – with a late message about another fiasco.

Up to 1000 cables installed on vessel ‘801’ which is due to go on the Arran route have been found to be “too short to connect to the equipment” five years after they were installed. Mr Hair told MSPs that this would “inevitably” lead to “knock-on effects for the scheduling of 802”.

With no end to the crisis of ferry availability in sight, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has written to the new Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, saying that the islands are at “crisis point” and calls for urgent action to provide short-term relief. They again suggest the purchase of the MV Pentalina for Arran or Mull to allow redeployments across the fleet.

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At its meeting last week, Comhairle nan Siar agreed unanimously to protest about the continuing absence of islanders from the boards of Scottish Government quangos despite the near break-down of the system. In particular, the appointment of Erik Østergaard as chairman of Caledonian MacBrayne continues to be met with astonishment and fury.

Øsgtergaard, a Danish businessman, has been chairman of CMAL – the procurement quango which failed to spot the cables problem over a five year period. He is a central figure in the whole dispute between the Scottish Government and the previous Ferguson owners over responsibility for what has gone so catastrophically wrong at the yard. In spite of his long tenure at CMAL and his latest transition to the CalMac role, Mr Østergaard is unknown in the islands. Uisdean Robertson chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s transport committee said he had been promised by the former Minister – Graeme Dey – who resigned after eight months in the job that Østergaard would make it a priority to take account of communities’ views.

“Despite this promise Mr Østergaard has made no attempt to contact the Comhairle since assuming his new chairmanship which is entirely consistent with the approach he took in his previous role as chair of CMAL. It would seem that actions speak louder than words and while lifeline ferry services have been decimated in recent weeks the senior management hunker down in Gourock or, in the chair’s case, Copenhagen.”

Meanwhile, the Gazette has lodged a series of Freedom of Information requests with the Scottish Government about the appointment. We have asked them:

1. To provide all correspondence, e-mails and records of telephone conversations regarding the formulation of a panel to interview and short-list candidates for the position of chairman of David MacBrayne Limited in 2021.

2. To provide all correspondence, e-mails and records of telephone conversations between officials of Transport Scotland and Mr Erik Østergaard referring to his prospective candidacy and actual candidacy.

2. To provide the report which went from the selection panel to Ministers concerning his appointment, redacting the names of unsuccessful candidates.

3. To list the dates and locations on which the former Transport Minister, Graeme Dey, met Erik Ostergaard in person and by video conference.

4. To provide details of all occasions on which Mr Andrew Thin has been a member of selection panels for the appointment of chairpersons and board members.