Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has written to Minister for Energy and Islands, Paul Wheelhouse MSP to underline the urgent need for investment in new ferries for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service network over and above the commitment to build the two ferries at Ferguson Marine Engineering that are now set to be at least two years late before they enter service.
The letter underlined that the primary purpose for Government investment in ferry services must be to secure the sustainability of the island communities they serve.
There is strong evidence that Government needs to be bringing in new ferries to replace at least the four major ferries which have been in service since the 1980s and while the two ferries in build at Port Glasgow will address a small part of the aging fleet issue this needs to go further and that Government should by now have placed an order for the promised new ferry for Islay and in all reality this should be a two ferry order.
Comhairle Chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Cllr. Uisdean Robertson recently met representatives of Strategic Marine, that recently completed the new ferry for Pentland Ferries, to understand the service they could offer.
These discussions were very positive and Strategic Marine were able to produce outline designs for a monohull ferry that could operate from the existing infrastructure at ports including Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Uig (the Skye Triangle) or to serve Islay.
Interestingly this 90 metre long vessel would have a car deck capacity for 115 cars which is only 12 fewer than new vessel 802 / MV Glen Sannox, the delayed FMEL built ferries.
This would be an increase of 15% on the capacity offered by the larger MV Hebrides.
This information has been shared with Scottish Ministers.
Councillor Robertson said: “Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have had very positive discussions with Ministers and we know they understand the damage technical difficulties with aging ferries can have on fragile island economies.
“We want to work constructively with Government to overcome this threat and believe the proposal we outlined on the Strategic Marine design is worthy of serious consideration.
“This could deliver the badly needed new ferries in as little as 18 months from an order being placed at a cost that is likely to be significantly lower than the £40-50Million CMAL have quoted as the cost of building a single new ferry for Islay to operate alongside MV Finnlaggan.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that the purpose of these ferries is to serve lifeline routes to islands as well as being an enabler for economic development for which I know Scottish Government shares our enthusiasm.”