Transport bosses have announced the procurement process for a new ferry to support the community and economy on Islay has begun.
The first stage of the tender process will assess if interested shipyards meet the technical and financial criteria to take on the project.
The invitation to tender is expected to be issues later this summer with a view of awarding the £50 million contract in March 2022.
Key stakeholders and members of the local community will be involved in assisting with the design of the new ferry.
Minister for transport Graeme Dey said: “I’m pleased to announce the process to build a new ferry for Islay is formally underway.
“The route is one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network and this new vessel will help to grow the island’s economy, as well as bring added resilience to the fleet.
Scottish Government have pledged to bring in new ferries to support island communities and are looking to invest around £580 million over the next five years.
Last year, Argyll and Bute received a funding boost of £954,000 from the Scottish Government to help safeguard island ferry services.
Jim Anderson, director of vessels at Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) said: “Reaching the procurement stage is the culmination of robust planning over the past eighteen months, including vessel requirements, detailed concept design options and feasibility studies and analysis, as well as regular engagement with community representatives and islanders.
“This marks an important step forward in bringing a new vessel to Islay and Jura. It is one of several new vessel and harbour upgrade projects we are currently progressing to improve the resilience of ferry services for island communities.”
State-owned Calmac run the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service, which is one of the busiest freight services linking the islands with the mainland.
Calmac’s managing director Robbie Drummond welcomed the addition of the new vessel. He said: “This will provide much needed additional capacity on the route to support the economic growth of the island.”