New ferries: ‘Cheaper to just start again’

The former owner of the Ferguson shipyard at Port Glasgow has claimed it would still be cheaper and faster to write off “Hull 802” and start again with a more appropriate vessel for the Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy route.

By Brian Wilson
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 8:09 am
It's now seven years since the contract was first signed and there are doubts whether the new ferries will ever see the light of day.
It's now seven years since the contract was first signed and there are doubts whether the new ferries will ever see the light of day.

Jim McColl also said that the doomed contract to build the two CalMac vessels at Port Glasgow was taken prematurely to meet “a purely political timetable”; that Nicola Sturgeon was fully involved in the decision; and that he would not have accepted the contract if he had known the strength of opposition from CMAL, the nominal client. The Scottish Government denied the assertions by Mr McColl.

His intervention follows publication of a report by the Auditor General for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, who found: “There is no documented evidence to confirm why Scottish ministers were willing to accept the risks of awarding the contract to Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd, despite CMAL’s concerns. We consider there should have been a proper record of this important decision”.

He added: “Major problems remain unresolved at the shipyard... more than two years after the Scottish Government took over control, significant operational failures still need to be fully resolved and further remedial work on the vessels continues to be uncovered”.

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Mr McColl’s view was supported by the Scottish Government’s adviser on shipbuilding, Luke van Beek, who said: “I assume the current estimate of cost is somewhere in the £350m to £400m bracket. The cost of completing them is likely to exceed the cost of starting again, particularly if they were to start again on a simpler design better suited to the ferry routes”.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes told MSPs that there would be a further eight months delay to completion of Hull 801, destined for the Arran route, and that would lead to an “inevitable” knock-on delay to Hull 802. At the most optimistic projection, it would not enter service on the Skye triangle until 2024.

However, doubts continue to be expressed about whether the vessel will be completed. It was claimed this week by Alf Young, who has followed the saga closely, that there are as few as 25 workers committed to Hull 802.

Professor Young said: “None of the workforce data, in this latest iteration or in all the earlier ones now open to public scrutiny, supports Scottish government claims that its actions in taking ownership of Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow secured the jobs of 300 skilled Clydeside shipbuilders”.

The Gazette this week calls for an independent panel of experts, nominated by local authorities, to assess the true condition of Hull 802 and the prospects of it entering service according to the schedule now set out by Ms Forbes.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar leader, Roddie Mackay, backed the call. He said: “It is deeply worrying that so much uncertainty still exists and that the communities which are desperately in need of this vessel still really have no idea about when it is likely to come into service. We need a realistic view from people in whom we can place trust”.