Islanders have stepped-up a campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to secure a catamaran for the Oban to Mull ferry route.
Mull and Iona Ferry Committee wants a decision taken before the Scottish Parliament rises for the election.
The committee sourced a £10 million catamaran currently under construction by an Australian company in Indonesia and believes it could be adapted for the busy route for around £2 million.
CMAL, (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd), which owns ferries and ports on behalf of the Scottish Government, has said the catamaran doesn’t comply with MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) standards.
However the committee says a report by Strathclyde University, commissioned after islanders raised thousands of pounds as part of the campaign, found the vessel would exceed MCA safety requirements with minimal modifications.
The committee says the catamaran’s cost would be recouped in seven years through greater fuel efficiency and lower operating costs.
Committee chairman Joe Reade urged islands minister Paul Wheelhouse to intervene before parliament rises this week and instruct CMAL to agree terms for the catamaran before it is bought for use elsewhere.
He said: “CMAL has spent nearly £200 million of taxpayers money on two ferries that are nowhere near ready and four years late, yet when the opportunity presents itself to acquire a ferry that is available right now, they dismiss it out of hand and create artificial ‘safety’ obstructions – making assertions that have now been comprehensively dismissed by the respected academics of Strathclyde University’s Department of Naval Architecture.”
Retiring Argyll and Bute MSP and Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell said: “The Strathclyde Report, the commissioning of which I was glad to support, indicates absolutely clearly that the vessel would be a good purchase at a low price compared to recent costs of ferries commissioned by CMAL.
“It is also available now, which is an essential consideration given the long delays to the CMAL commissioned vessels and the long lead time for a new Mull vessel which hasn’t even been commissioned yet.
“The Scottish Government has been looking for an additional vessel for some time and this is a first-rate opportunity to secure one that could make a big difference to the island very quickly.
“That opportunity needs to be seized with both hands.”
Jenni Minto, the SNP candidate for Argyll and Bute in the forthcoming election, also supports the move.
“It is clear the CalMac fleet needs more vessels and this opportunity is one that shouldn’t be passed up.
“I know as an Islay resident that the shortage of vessels causes considerable difficulty for all island communities so I hope that the minister will look very carefully at the positive report and try to move this ahead as quickly as possible”.
The ferry committee identified a catamaran ferry being built in Indonesia in the summer of 2020.
Moray Finch, general manager of Mull & Iona Community Trust said: “If this opportunity is not taken, Mull and Iona are facing 10 more years of a failing ferry service.
“The ferry replacement programme is hopelessly behind schedule, and it will take around 10 years for CMAL to procure an alternative, not to mention the larger pier that their predilection for over-sized monohulls demands.”
Shiona Ruhemann of Iona Community Council added: “The whole ethos and purpose of the Islands Ministry is to empower our communities, to put us at the centre of decisions that are all too often taken for us by off-island ‘experts.
“This is a prime case in point. We have proven the case, now we just need the Islands Minister to support us.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Scottish Ministers have received the report from the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee and will review it along with CMAL and its consultants.
“It would not be appropriate to comment further until this material has been reviewed further.”