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Mull urges government to splash out on cheaper more efficient ferry for island

A catamaran similar the one proposed for Mull.
A catamaran similar the one proposed for Mull.

Islanders on Mull have raised thousands of pounds as part of a campaign to get a £10million vessel to ease congestion on the busy route.

A staggering 645,000 people make the popular journey between Oban and Craignure every year.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee has sourced a catamaran currently under construction by an Australian company in Indonesia.

The cat is 230ft long, carries 350 passengers and 80 cars while the current ferry, the Isle of Mull, at 295ft takes 962 passengers and 65 cars.

Due for completion in June, the ferry committee says the vessel could be adapted for the Oban to Craignure run at a cost of around £2million on top of the asking price.

Work to bring it up to scratch would include cabins for crews, additional vehicle ramps, changes to passenger access, a lift, different style of life rafts and minor safety related modifications.

This represents excellent value for money, according to the committee, with a new CalMac ferry currently in the planning stages for Islay with a budget of around £50million.

Although CMAL, (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd), which owns ferries and ports on behalf of the Scottish Government, says the catamaran doesn’t comply with MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) standards, the designers are confident it will pass.

Similar vessels have been operating across the Pentland Firth to Orkney since 2008.

Now the Mull group has raised almost £8,000 to pay for naval architect reports. The work will confirm if the vessel will meet standards or what modifications would be required.

Joe Reade, chairman of Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said: “There is universal and really strong support on the island for this because of all the benefits it will bring.”

The ferry committee wants the ship to be used for Mull year round, with the current vessel, the Isle of Mull, brought in during summer months.

Mr Reade said: “The Mull run is the most congested service in the CalMac network. It is difficult to travel when you want to during summer.

“We are absolutely determined that this vessel gets proper consideration. We will do everything necessary to make sure it gets a fair crack of the whip.

“We hope that CMAL and Transport Scotland will make a decision before parliament dissolves. We need them to jump on the sale.”

Transport Scotland said it would consider the reports before writing the idea off. A spokesman said: “I would assure you that, should we receive a copy of the report, it will be considered fully.

“However, while this would be considered in good faith and on its merits, I do not want to raise any false expectations or certainty around this changing our position, as ultimately the requirement will still be for engagement with and approval by the MCA by STS.”

A spokeswoman for CMAL insisted the vessel was “not compliant”, adding: “We conducted a professional review, led by our in-house naval architects and ship designers, and also commissioned an independent naval architecture consultancy.

“Both assessments identified the catamaran does not meet the strict standards required to operate in the UK, as set by the MCA. These include (but not limited to) issues relating to health and safety, evacuation, accessibility and crew cabin provision; all highly critical factors.

“CMAL cannot spend millions of taxpayers’ pounds on purchasing a vessel that may not secure a passenger certificate and therefore never be able to operate on Scottish routes.”

But Mr Reade said: “CMAL chief executive Kevin Hobbs has had a sale offer on his desk since December, that explicitly makes passenger certification a condition of sale – ie, unless it passes, there will be no ‘millions’ to pay.

“Thanks must go to the amazing support of our island community who have put their hands in their own pockets to fund this study. When it reports in just a matter of days, we will see if CMAL were right or wrong on their assertion that it cannot be modified to pass the MCA.”

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