Islanders on Mull have reacted furiously after the Scottish Government refused to buy a new catamaran to ease pressure on the run.
Mull and Iona Ferry Committee have asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to come to the islands and see for herself the difficulties they face on what they call “the most congested route in Scotland”.
And they have branded state-owned ferry procurement agency CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited), “obstructive, arrogant and incompetent”.
It comes after the community group urged the government to buy a £10million catamaran – similar to the vessel which serves Orkney on the Pentland Firth – to sail between Oban and Craignure.
The ship is currently sitting in Indonesia after being constructed by an Australian company.
‘Get to grips with the complete shambles’
The committee fundraised £14,000 to pay for an independent naval architects report which concluded it would meet MCA approval, with minor modifications.
The report claimed it would become one of the safest vessels in the CalMac fleet.
CMAL is insistent the catamaran is not suitable.
According to its in house and independent naval architects, it requires “significant” modifications.
Joe Reade, chairman of the ferry committee, said: “We believe it is now time for the first minister to come to Mull and Iona to hear directly from islanders, and get to grips with the complete shambles engulfing Scotland’s lifeline ferry network.
“Politicians and officials in Edinburgh seem to be looking the other way, whilst we desperately try to tell them what the problems are, and how to fix them.
“The system is bordering on the dysfunctional.
“There is an ideal vessel available on the market right now, but CMAL seems to be too arrogant and incompetent to take advantage of the opportunity.
“But even worse than that, they seem to be deliberately obstructing this much needed vessel, in the most shocking and scandalous manner that shows only contempt for islanders.”
‘Catalogue of failings’
The committee has published a “catalogue of failings” by CMAL in the handling of the potential purchase on its website.
They allege CMAL’s inability to correctly interpret vessel drawings, and failing to respond to requests for dimensions of piers.
It is also claimed the government body demonstrated poor handling of commercial negotiations with the seller.
A spokeswoman for CMAL said: “We are acutely aware of the need to replace vessels in the fleet.
“If this new-build catamaran was a viable solution, we would pull out all the stops to make the purchase happen.”
A lack of confidence in the vessel
She added that considerable time and resource has been spent assessing the vessel.
She said: “As a public body, we simply cannot spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a new-build vessel that may not be able to secure a passenger certificate and therefore never be able to operate on Scottish routes.”
Transport Scotland said the decision not to buy the ferry had “not been taken lightly”.
A spokesman said: “There has been a lack of confidence in the vessel’s suitability from the outset of this process.
“We are confident that CMAL has given it the appropriate level of due consideration given the strong feelings from the community on the issue.
He added: “We are actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage and looking at other credible, affordable and viable options to improve resilience.”
A similar sized ferry currently being planned for Islay has a budget of £67million.