FERGUSON Marine’s turnaround director has said the shipyard is on the road to recovery and is confident that the first of two overdue ferries will arrive next year.
Tim Hair, who has said that the nationalised shipyard is probably “the most challenging business turnaround in the UK” spoke as a 35-tonne ‘bulbous nose’ on Hull 802 was replaced at the Port Glasgow shipyard and seen as a crucial part of the programme to delivery the lifeline vessels.
The collapse of Ferguson Marine which runs the last remaining shipyard on the lower Clyde, in August 2019, came amid soaring costs and delays to the construction of two lifeline island ferries and resulted in a Scottish Government management takeover.
It came five years after tycoon Jim McColl first rescued the yard when it went bust.
The delivery of new island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, was found to be between four and five years late, with costs doubling to over £200m.
In June it emerged that the completion of the long-overdue ferries had been delayed again, with Ferguson Marine blaming the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of skilled labour.
The nationalised boat builder is making two ferries for CalMac for use around the Scottish islands.
Both were originally scheduled to be in operation by 2018 but the latest prediction is that one will be completed between July and September 2022 and the other will be delivered between April and July 2023.
And Mr Hair, who it emerged earlier this month had been paid nearly £1.3m for 454 days work, has said that he is sure that that schedule can be met.
“There are problems that could emerge in the commissioning phase because of a lot of equipment on the ships that’s been there for five years,” he said.
“However, we’ve done everything we can to minimise that.”
Ferguson Marine said that the ‘bulbous nose’ replacement was ‘another significant milestone’, having carried out the same jobs on Glen Sannox last year.
The state shipyard firm said: “It is a highly functional piece of precision engineering, designed to facilitate less drag, consistent speed, and efficient fuel consumption. The bulbous bow has been designed and constructed specifically for Hull 802 based on its operational requirements.
“In a meticulously planned engineering operation inside the Port Glasgow shipyard, the 35-tonne bulbous bow was lifted into place by a mobile crane and will be welded to the bow structure.”
The operation involved a six-strong team of engineers, welders and shipwrights, working over three days, starting in the early hours of Monday morning, to ensure all preparation and alignment was ready to accept the bow unit.
They said that earlier this year, structural work on MV Glen Sannox was completed following the installation of a reworked funnel and newly constructed mast, as well as completion of the structure around the stern and inside the hull.
“This is another significant step forward in the recovery of the shipyard, with visible progress in recent months on both vessels,” said Mr Hair. “The past year has been extremely challenging, working under the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we have gained momentum following the disruption and we are reaching important milestones.
“A lot of work is taking place at the shipyard and our teams have been working extremely hard. Significantly more work is being done on Hull 802 while it remains on the slipway, compared to MV Glen Sannox. This means that when it launches, it will weigh 1,300 tonnes more than MV Glen Sannox did at the point of launch, providing an indication of the volume of additional work onboard the second vessel.
“There remains a lot of work to do on both vessels, but construction is progressing well, and we are optimistic as we forge ahead. We have developed increased capability over the past 18 months with a highly experienced leadership team and a skilled and talented workforce, who are committed to completing the vessels and building a future for the shipyard.
“We continue to do everything possible to deliver the dual fuel ferry programme, improve productivity, secure new contracts for vessels, and protect local jobs.”
Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) Holdings (FMPG), which is controlled by ministers and supported by taxpayer cash, made a £100 million loss in its first four months of Scottish Government control.
Two previous companies running the Ferguson Marine shipyard have gone into insolvency in the past seven years.
Auditors for the state-owned FMPG have said there are no guarantees that it will continue to operate in the future although directors of FMPG have signed off recent financial statements on a “going concern” basis.
The Scottish Government has said it believes it was acting in the public interest in taking complete control of FMEL by December, as it saved the yard from closure, rescued more than 300 jobs, and ensured that the two vessels under construction will be completed.
Ministers have now taken over the contracts for the ferries and terminated the existing agreements with the owners and procurers of Scotland’s ferry fleet, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL).
Mr Hair, a Gloucestershire-based businessman and the former chief of engineering firm Chamberlain, was handed the turnaround deal by ex-finance secretary Derek Mackay two years ago, according to the Scottish Government.
He was brought in after Ferguson Marine under Mr McColl went into administration following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd.
Mr McColl blamed repeated design changes by CMAL for the issues in building the vessels for ferry operator CalMac, which is also publicly-owned.
Asked if it would have made more sense to scrap the ferries and start again, Mr Hair told the BBC: “I don’t believe so.
“The remit was to finish the vessels, but we had a short look at starting again.
“The conclusion back then was to scrap them, redesign and rebuild them would have been slower than completing the vessels. I think that was the right decision at the time.”