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Mull islanders: Ferry owners wanted to steer us off course during a sham consultation

© Mull and Iona Ferry CommitteeCalMac's Isle of Mull ferry
CalMac's Isle of Mull ferry

Islanders have accused the owners of CalMac’s ferries of trying to dupe them during a consultation into a replacement boat for the lifeline service.

Communities on Mull and Iona wanted to buy and modify a catamaran-style vessel but say Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) – the Scottish Government quango which owns ferries infrastructure – weighted a consultation last year toward its preferred option.

Joe Reade, chairman of the islands’ Ferry Committee, said CMAL put no effort into investigating a catamaran service but knocked together a design intended to be inferior in every way to its preferred option.

Yesterday, CMAL questioned the committee’s expertise and denied it had any preference.

Reade said his group had used Freedom of Information laws to access CMAL’s proposed designs, adding: “CMAL held a public online consultation on options for ferries for Islay in January 2021. A table compared an unnamed catamaran with CMAL’s ‘preferred’ monohull option.

“It rated the catamaran as being worse on every measure. It caught not just our attention, but also that of industry professionals with whom we have regular contact.

“The two natural advantages of good catamaran designs are that they have a shallow draught, great for the restricted waters of many ports in the Hebrides and are efficient, requiring less energy to push them through the water.

“CMAL’s catamaran exhibited neither of these advantages and instead was both deep-draughted and very fuel-thirsty. Naturally, we wanted to know more about this catamaran.”

The only thing regular is the breakdowns: Islanders’ anger as Arran ferry ruled out for weeks and CalMac blame an ageing fleet

After an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, the committee was shocked on seeing the plan.

Reade said: “Work on the design began just three weeks before the webinar in which it was presented. The design was the creation of the same design house who worked up the preferred monohull design.

“We put the design to several naval architects, including catamaran specialists, and their appraisal was far from complimentary. It was recognised as a hugely heavy, poorly developed design.

“CMAL’s cynical and manipulative use of a catamaran design that was deliberately designed to fail is harmful to both islanders and taxpayers. It’s shameful.”

The quango is already under scrutiny for its role in the Ferguson shipbuilding contract which led to the Port Glasgow yard collapsing and passing into government control. The costs of building two ferries there has more than doubled and could end up costing £400m and will be years behind schedule.

Troubled ferries’ fuel tanks will not be ready until 2025

CMAL said: “Our analysis and consultation for the two Islay vessels was extensive and the Islay Ferry Committee has stated its satisfaction with the level of engagement and the two boats on order. CMAL is not anti- catamaran. We are considering a catamaran for the Dunoon-Kilcreggan-Gourock route.

“We deal in facts not fiction and will only ever order the vessels best suited to the routes and communities they are intended to serve.”

Minister urged to explain claims of ferry paper trail

Ivan McKee (Pic: Ross Johnston/Newsline Media)

Labour transport spokesman Daniel Johnson has called on business minister Ivan McKee to explain why he told MSPs there is a paper trail explaining the contentious decision to award a ferry contract without standard financial guarantees.

The estimated delivery of the two CalMac ferries has been pushed back by five years, along with an increase in costs from £97 million to at least £250m.

Johnson said: “We need ministers to appear before parliament urgently to explain discrepancies in the documentation available and correct their misleading statements to the chamber.”

Lib Dems spokesman Willie Rennie said: “Some of the claims made by SNP ministers have been absolutely ridiculous.”

The answer

Labour’s Daniel Johnson asks about lost documents relating to the ferry contract

Ivan McKee, SNP business minister: “We have been absolutely transparent about the decision-making process and the information that informed the decisions. There is a clear audit trail of key decisions and the basis on which they were taken. In relation to the documents mentioned in the Audit Scotland report, a thorough search has been conducted and no ministerial response to the submission of October 8, 2015 has been located.”