A NEW ferry has been purchased for a tiny fraction of the cost of each of the two vessels languishing in a Port Glasgow shipyard to help support Scotland’s ageing lifeline island ferry fleet.
MV Utne has been bought from Norled, the Norwegian shipping company that operates 45 car ferries, but it will not be in action till next year.
The vessel was on offer for just £5.5m. A £9m deal to capture the ferry includes the price of modifications.
The seven-year-old vessel which carries 195 passengers and 34 cars has been earmarked for the Oban to Craignure on Mull route in the network run by Scottish Government-controlled ferry operator CalMac.
Transport Scotland said communities in Skye and the Western Isles will also benefit as a result of the “cascade of vessels” elsewhere on the network.
It comes as the delivery of new lifeline island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, are over four years late, with costs doubling in total to over £200m. Glen Sannox, which like Hull 802 was being built to accommodate 1000 passengers and 127 cars or was due to support the Arran route.
MV Utne will not go into immediate service.
The vessel will transfer to ferry fleet owners Caledonian Maritime Assets around the end of this month, before undergoing modification work to allow it to enter service.
The works are expected to be completed by early 2022, with CalMac staff then undergoing on board training and familiarisation.
Transport minister Graeme Dey said: “I’m very pleased to announce that MV Utne has been purchased by CMAL [the owners of Scotland’s ageing lifeline ferries Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd] to join the ferry fleet serving the Clyde and Hebrides network.
“We have always said we would look to the second hand market for additional vessels to support our island communities, and this purchase is the result of this ongoing work.”
It comes after a summer of cancellations and disruption across the CalMac ferry network due to breakdowns with the ageing ferry fleet.
Islanders from Arran to Islay have lodged complaints to ministers about disruption and cancellations to services as the fleet falters.
Mr Dey said: “The Scottish Government has committed £580 million to fund new ferries and port investments over the next five years. We continue to work with CMAL and CalMac to develop potential programmes that will deliver additional improvements to the network.”
While industry experts agree the working life of the ferries is 25 years, 14 of the 33-strong ferry fleet run is older than that, with eight, including Hebridean Isles, past their 30th birthday.
Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said: “This is welcome news. Sustainable transport links to and from our islands are key to supporting community life, and attracting the people and skills we need for a successful future.
“We will continue to raise the local and national importance of this, and look forward to hearing more details about how this additional ferry will be put to work for our communities, businesses and visitors.”
Deployment details will be confirmed by CalMac in due course, subject to the vessel achieving Maritime and Coastguard Agency certification and the completion of crew training and sea trials.
Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL, said: “The search for a suitable second hand vessel has been long and challenging, and we’ve experienced a few false starts. But we are glad to bring this much-needed second hand tonnage to the fleet to provide the operator, CalMac, with some resilience.”
Transport Scotland MV Utne has been operating successfully with a fully compliant passenger certificate from the Norwegian Maritime Board for the past five years.
It sais CMAL have also “proactively engaged” with the MCA throughout the purchase process which “offers us confidence in the vessel’s compliance, safety and operability.”
Robbie Drummond, CalMac managing director said: “The addition of the MV Utne to the CalMac fleet is extremely welcome and will bring much-needed resilience to the network. We will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland and CMAL to determine how best MV Utne can support our delivery of lifeline services.”