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Liam McArthur seeks assurances on delivery of hydrogen-powered ferry for Orkney

Liam McArthur MSP.
Liam McArthur MSP.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has sought assurances the nationalised Ferguson shipyard will remain committed to a state-of-the-art hydrogen ferry destined for the islands.

Yesterday Mr McArthur wrote to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay following concerns that taking the yard into public control could harm the company’s world leading project to deliver “green” ferries for Orkney.

Last week, Mr Mackay announced his controversial decision to nationalise the Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) following the long-running dispute over the spiralling costs of building two ferries for the west coast.

The cost of building the vessels for the Ardrossan to Arran route and the Uig to Tarbet and Lochmaddy route has doubled from its original £97 million price tag.

When the nationalisation of the Clyde shipyard was announced, FMEL chief naval architect Chris Dunn questioned whether there would be an “appetite” to continue with the innovative work on Orkney’s environmentally friendly ferries.

FMEL is involved in a 9.3 million euro project to build the world’s first hydrogen powered ferry, which would eventually operate in Orkney.

Linked to that project, the Shapinsay to Kirkwall ferry was recently serviced as part of a related project to convert it to using an environmentally friendly form of hydrogen as a fuel.

Speaking to the Press and Journal last week, Mr Dunn suggested resources could be directed elsewhere, which was a concern.

On the back of his remarks, Mr McArthur, Lib Dem MSP for Orkney, said: “The Scottish Government need to be clear about whether their commitment to Ferguson extends beyond the ferries for West Coast routes.

“I have written to the Finance Secretary seeking assurances about ferry provision for Orkney routes.

“I hope there will be no let-up in the commitment to innovation now that the Fergusons yard is in government hands.”

The government’s nationalisation policy has been criticised by Clyde Blowers tycoon Jim McColl, who stepped in to save the yard from collapse in 2014 in a deal that was partly brokered by former first minister Alex Salmond.

Since Mr McColl’s intervention, FMEL has received £45 million in Scottish Government loans.

The yard also secured a £97 million contract to build the two Calmac vessels on behalf of the government agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).

However, in the intervening period, the cost of building the boats has almost doubled.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is vital that the outstanding CMAL contract to build the two new ferries is completed. There will be no shipyard and no jobs if that doesn’t happen. Ministers remain committed to the completion of vessels, securing jobs, and to working towards finding a solution to support future shipbuilding at the site.

“The future structure of the business will be developed by officials and advisors with the aim of securing a future for the yard.”

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