TWO of Scotland’s ageing ferries were forced out of action at the weekend – as calls were made for the scrapping of the management and ownership structure of Scotland’s beleaguered lifeline vessels and a re-organisation into one integrated body.
Services to and from Islay were hit when 36-year-old MV Hebridean, one of the oldest in the state-owned fleet was once again taken out of action on Saturday due to a problem with its hull which is being investigated.
The service was reduced to just one vessel as repairs are sought for the vessel just nine days after it was laid up due to a technical issue with its port main engine.
And 21-year-old MV Hebrides, which serves the Uig to Tarbert and Lochmaddy route was taken out of service after a crew member tested positive for Covid on Saturday just four days after it returned to action after repairs to an oil leak had it sidelined for nine days.
It comes after a series of summer breakdowns of ferries and the failure to deliver two vessels languishing at the Ferguson Marine shipyard, with costs doubling and delays of over four years.
The pro-independence party led by Alex Salmond has echoed concerns about the nation’s ferry procurement and ownership process and called for radical change including the scrapping of the owners of Scotland’s ageing lifeline ferries Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).
The criticism has been over the locking of the management and ownership of ferry services within four levels of Scottish Government-controlled bodies – CMAL, Ferguson Marine as ferry builders, Transport Scotland as funders, and service operators CalMac.
Alba delegates have overwhelmingly passed a move to set out the case to create a new single Ferries Scotland body which would see the amalgamation of CalMac, CMAL, and the shipyard for the procurement, design, construction, and operation of Scotland’s ferry fleet.
The party says the move is essential as a result of “CMAL’s disastrous procurement arrangements” for the construction of two new ferries at Ferguson’s shipyard in Port Glasgow and that “a lack of Scottish Government leadership has contributed to this situation”.
It also considers that CalMac and CMAL’s governance arrangements are “no longer fit for purpose”, and that the ongoing interim leadership of the shipyard is a “barrier to protecting and creating jobs at the yard”.
It comes after it emerged that Tim Hair, the turnaround director of the now state-owned ferry company has been paid over £1.5m for 454 days work.
Official Scottish Government figures have revealed that Tim Hair’s invoiced fees at the taxpayer’s expense as head of nationalised Ferguson Marine works out at nearly £3,000 a day – making him one of the UK’s highest-earning public servants.
The party has also called on ministers to directly award all future CalMac ferry orders to Ferguson Marine.
In a motion submitted by former SNP MSP Mike MacKenzie to the party inaugural conference, approved the case for a new Ferries Scotland Body.
Mr MacKenzie said: “The sight of a CalMac ferry once filled an islanders heart with pride. The chaos on the ferry network is a disgrace. All of the agencies responsible should hang their heads in shame. Alba is putting the needs of island communities, and protecting jobs, front and centre by approving this policy.”
Alba have also called on the Scottish Government to bring Inverclyde’s Inchgreen Drydock into public ownership to aid the industrial revival of the Lower Clyde.
Speaking in support Inverclyde councillor Jim McEleny, who defected from the SNP to Alba at the weekend said: “The Scottish Government must issue direct awards of Scottish taxpayer owned ferries to Scotland’s nationally owned shipyard in Port Glasgow. This would put in place a steady pipeline of work which would be the foundation to create 1000 new jobs. For too long the Inchgreen Drydock has been left to ruin. The Scottish Government must immediately bring it into public ownership to assist in the industrial revival of the River Clyde.”
Issues with the ferry network have come off the back of the country’s ferry building fiasco with two lifeline vessels being built at nationalised Ferguson Marine, owner of the last civilian Clyde shipyard.
They were due to be in service in early 2018, are now up to nearly five years behind schedule and their is now over double the original £97m contract.
The first of the ferries the MV Glen Sannox is now destined for the Arran to Ardrossan route – Scotland’s busiest ferry crossing – between April 2022 and June, 2022.
Ferguson Marine, led by tycoon Jim McColl went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) – the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac’s ships on behalf of the Scottish government – over the construction of the ferries under the fixed price contract.
The Scottish Government pushed ahead to take full control of of the shipyard company as then owner, tycoon Jim McColl blaming repeated design changes by CMAL for the issues in building the vessels.
Some 16 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac’s 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.