Two CalMac Ferries May Be Scrapped – 11 April 2022


What a mess our public-run ferry services are in.Island communities bereft of a reliable service – sometimes any service.The last shipyard on the lower Clyde, Ferguson’s at Port Glasgow, is struggling to complete two ships.On top of this, the latest vessels for taxpayer-owned CalMac have been ordered from a Turkish yard.It wasn’t meant to be this way, when back in 2014 Ferguson’s was saved by the entrepreneur Jim McColl.
Then, the future looked rosy for communities and the yard.
So, what went wrong?
First and foremost, a big boy didn’t do it and ran away – as Nicola Sturgeon has seemed to suggest.Blame does not all rest with Derek Mackay, the Transport Minister when the contracts for two vessels were awarded to Ferguson’s in 2015.
Neither, though, does blame rest with Mr McColl. Nor the Ferguson workforce.
Instead, the wrong ships were sought – and the contract for them was rushed through.Blame for the kind of ships ordered lies with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd – known as CMAL – the quango which procures ships for CalMac. It insisted on those ferries.Blame for the deal lies with the Scottish Government. It was desperate for a big announcement for Nicola Sturgeon’s first SNP conference – in 2015 – as party leader, and forced the deal through too quickly.The vessels Ferguson’s is currently struggling to complete are dual fuel – running on liquefied natural gas and marine diesel. It’s a complicated combination and rarely used on ships of this size.Scotland – not just island communities – have no experience with them, let alone infrastructure to fuel them.
They’re simply the wrong type of ship.No wonder neither communities nor CalMac wanted them in the first place. Yet CMAL insisted.Compounding the problem was the rushed contract, with the precise terms of what was to be built – and at what cost – never clear.As design specifications kept changing, Ferguson’s struggled to know just what it was building. Costs, accordingly, kept mounting.With CMAL never having wanted the order to go to Ferguson’s anyway, relations between both soon broke down.
The Scottish Government refused to intervene and Ferguson’s, under Mr McColl, folded.The yard was taken over by the Scottish Government in 2018 but a supposed “Turnaround” Director appointed at huge cost had no more success in completing the project.They were simply the wrong ships – being built to a contract that was unclear from the outset.Costs keep rising and completion dates keep getting pushed back.Meanwhile, desperation grows in island communities – and the threat to Ferguson’s remains.So, what needs to be done?Well, a decision needs to be made soon as to whether these ships will ever sail.If not, as looks increasingly possible, then salvage what we can and start again.In the meantime, if needs be, lease ships from elsewhere, as is sometimes done.But in future let’s get the right vessels, where it’s clear what’s being built and how much it’ll cost.Just as importantly let’s build them on the Clyde, not in some foreign yard.For that, CMAL should be abolished. CalMac, along with communities and crew, should decide what vessels to acquire.Norway, like Scotland, has remote communities but constructs or acquires ships that do as much, if not more, for less.
Crew don’t need to sleep on board – an unnecessary add-on in the current project – freeing up space for passengers and vehicles, as well as providing vital employment for remote communities.More frequent services albeit with a slightly smaller crew, mean no redundancies.Those who don’t wish to relocate should form the nucleus of the ferry service to Europe that Scotland so badly needs – and CalMac should operate.There’s Scots who know how to design ships, as well as sail them, and a yard on the Clyde that knows how to build them.

So let’s join the dots.