The delivery of two new ferries which were to significantly boost capacity on the struggling west coast network will be delayed by at least a year, the Scottish Government has revealed.
The contract for the two vessels, one for the crossing between Arran and Ardrossan and one for the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle in the Outer Hebrides, was awarded to Ferguson Marine Engineering of Glasgow at a combined cost of £97million.
MV Glen Sannox, the first of the vessels, was launched at the end of last year amid much fanfare as she is the UK’s first liquified natural gas passenger ferry. But she has been hit by technical difficulties and it has now been confirmed she will not come into service until next autumn at the earliest.
It means delivery of the second vessel, for the service between North Uist, Harris and Skye, will also slip. She will now not be available till autumn 2020.
Scottish Government transport minister Michael Matheson said: “While this further delay is disappointing it is important to focus on the fact that we will have two new ships joining the fleet serving the Clyde and Hebrides network that have been built in Scotland, providing vital support to our ship-building industry.”
In June, the Scottish Government announced a £30million loan to Ferguson Marine, four years after it was brought out of administration by Clyde Blowers Capital, said to be worth £1.7billion and owned by high-profile businessman Jim McColl.
It is understood that a Freedom of Information Request has been submitted to try provide an explanation on the delays but has been met with an exemption due to commercial confidentiality.
Councillor Uisdean Robertson, chairman of the transportation committee on Western Isles Council, said: “It is disappointing, although we have known for some time there was going to be some sort of delay. The one positive we can take it out of it is that we have now have some firm dates of when we can, finally, expect a new vessel and, hopefully, it will be kept to.”
This summer has brought major woes across the ferry network. CalMac operated disrupted services to the Western Isles between April and June, when a break down of the MV Clansman resulted in a reshuffle of all the major vessels in the fleet.
Then earlier this month a faulty linkspan at Oban meant that the Barra ferry had to be diverted to Mull and Ullapool.