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Journey begins for new vessel to replace 34-year-old ferry on ‘congested’ west coast route

The Isle of Mull ferry.
The Isle of Mull ferry.

Islanders have welcomed plans to replace a ferry on the “most congested” route on the CalMac network.

More people than ever before are travelling on the 34-year-old ferry between Oban and Craignure.

The next vessel, which could take six years to arrive, will determine the shape of the islands’ main ferry service for the next 30-40 years.

Transport Scotland recently met the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee to begin the process of arranging a replacement.

The ferry users group has been campaigning fiercely, asking the government to buy a £10 million catamaran, similar to the vessel which serves Orkney in the Pentland Firth, to serve the route.

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

The ship is currently under construction in Indonesia, being made by an Australian company.

Transport bosses are yet to be convinced it is suitable for the job.

However, a naval architecture report commissioned by the committee said it could meet UK standards with minor modifications.

The professor who led the investigation is reported as stating: “This is one of the safest vessels we have ever assessed, and in my career I have assessed more than 150 car ferries.”

Joe Reade, chairman of committee, said: “Regardless of the outcome of our efforts to have the catamaran introduced, our 34-year-old main ferry is long overdue for renewal.

“The process of planning, procuring and building a new ferry can be long.

“To give an example – a new vessel for Islay was announced in 2018; it is currently in the planning stages and is due for delivery in mid 2024 – so from inception to delivery it will take around six years, and we should expect a similar timescale for Mull.”

He added: “Key strategic decisions will be taken very early in the process, and we want to make sure that those decisions are made in the best interests of the users who depend on our lifeline service.

“Whatever is delivered will determine the shape our main ferry service for the next 30-40 years.

“We are served now by a ferry that was conceived in the early 1980s, and the new ferry delivered at the end of this decade could be in service until 2070.

“We will need to do more however – it is essential that users’ needs are paramount in in the process.

“Very soon we will launch a new survey that we hope will capture what the communities’ needs, aspirations and priorities are for a new ferry service for Mull.

“We have an opportunity – and a need – to start with a blank sheet of paper, and design the best service, not just the best ferry.

“In the meantime, if you have any views or comments on this big topic, do email us, or speak to any of our members.”

Transport Minister Paul Wheelhouse wrote to the committee last month prior to the election period and confirmed that Transport Scotland is reviewing the architect report.

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