Community organisations, entrepreneurs and islanders today called on the Scottish Government to “stop dithering” to help relieve congestion on the ferry route to and from Mull and Iona by purchasing an environmentally friendly catamaran.
For each of the partly completed dual-fuel ferries being constructed at Port Glasgow, the groups have spotted a vessel on the market that costs about 10 percent of the £ 100 million paid.
It is said that the ferry route from Craignure to Oban, which serves Mull and Iona, is the busiest link in the entire CalMac network.
But Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), a Scottish government-run procurement and ferry firm, said it was not a viable choice at present because of difficulties in deciding whether the Indonesian-built catamaran would comply with the regulations that would enable it to obtain a passenger certificate.
The call from the Mull and Iona communities came in a letter to the Minister of the Island, Paul Wheelhouse.
The Mull & Iona Ferry Committee is among those lodging the protest, which has raised fears that ferries on all major routes in Scotland are now too large for the number of passengers and overcrowded, following an examination of passenger numbers for 2018/19.
They say the catamaran is due for completion in the spring and that the builder was optimistic that with some modifications at a cost of only £ 2 m, it would be a “very good solution”.
Rage about the ferry fleet of Scotland seen as ‘too large for the islands and a taxpayer’s burden’
Last August, Port Glasgow shipyard Ferguson Marine, which had won a £ 97 million contract to build two ferries, numbered 801 and 802, was forced to declare bankruptcy and taken over by the Scottish government into public ownership. The cost of ferries has since doubled.
CMAL now has a “excellent and immediate opportunity to bring a much-needed new vessel – already built – into the fleet and fulfill the task given to them by the Scottish government of buying from the second-hand market as quickly as possible.” said Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee.
Progress has been agonizingly slow and they seem reluctant to take this opportunity for some reason, which could have a positive effect on our ferry operator and our islands,”Progress has been agonizingly slow and for some reason they seem unwilling to take this opportunity that could have such a positive impact for our ferry operator and for our islands,”
“This ferry fits our piers, it can handle our seas, it can carry all the cars and people we need – in short, it can do exactly what CalMac and the islands need it to do. While it’s an excellent option, CMAL runs the risk of letting the islands down by not acting quickly enough, and there is now a real risk that this vessel will be sold elsewhere while CMAL dithers and delays.”
The two rescue ferries are now almost five years behind schedule, which are being constructed at Ferguson Marine and were expected to enter service in early 2018.
Between April 2022 and June 2022, the first of the ferries, the MV Glen Sannox, is now scheduled to run on the Arran to Ardrossan route.
The already delayed timetable called for the service of Glen Sannox from October to December 2021 prior to the closure. A second vessel, known only as the Hull 802, which was scheduled to be delivered for service on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle to state-owned CalMac in the first half of 2018, will not be in service until December 2022 through February 2023.
The committee said the ferry fleet of CalMac is “stretched to breaking point,” with more breakdowns and congestion each year, with the ferry delay debacle escalating the “dire situation”
Throughout the Hebrides, she said the delay of the two ferries is being felt, but nowhere more than on Mull.
Sandy Brunton, convenor of the Mull and Iona Community Trust, said it was a simple test of whether “and to instruct CMAL to complete the purchase.” the wishes and opinions of the island communities were being listened to or not.
Backed by local authorities, community trusts, town councils and other island organisations, the MIFC has called on Mr. Wheelhouse to make a definite and early decision on the purchase of the currently on offer ferry, saying they are only asking him to fulfill a pledge reiterated many times.
The ferry is a catamaran that sails to and from Orkney, identical to MV Alfred, operated by Pentland Ferries. The ferry committee reported that the ferry is highly respected by the Orcadians for its stability in bad weather and its low operating costs by the ferry company.