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Scottish Government ferry operator spends £170,000 on overseas travel

Calmac ferry.
Calmac ferry.

A taxpayer funded ferry operator who sparked fury after awarding contracts to a Turkish shipyard has spent almost £170,000 on foreign travel in the past seven years.

Scottish Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) was criticised after it emerged they were spending around £300 a month more for overseas visits during the Covid pandemic.

It heaps further pressure on the firm which snubbed government-owned Ferguson Marine over a deal to build vessels for Islay and Jura.

Almost £170,000 on overseas travel since 2015 and yet they struggle to sail the seas they’re supposed to serve.

– MP Kenny MacAskill

CMAL instead awarded a lucrative contract to Cemre Marin Endustri in a move the Scottish Tories branded “embarrassing” for the SNP.

Ferguson Marine is currently building two other ferries in Port Glasgow, but the projects have been hit by delays.

Scotland’s island communities have been plagued by ferry shortages in recent years.

The Tories claim rural Scots have been “abandoned” by the SNP with the party holding a debate in parliament on the matter this Wednesday.

Holyrood politicians have criticised the fact that the two vessels intended to serve Islay and Jura will be constructed abroad.

‘Jetting around the globe’

MP Kenny MacAskill, a former senior Scottish Government minister, criticised the firm for “jetting around the globe” despite struggles at home.

However, CMAL insisted that cash spent had been on important research abroad to help improve domestic ferry services.

Mr MacAskill said: “Almost £170,000 on overseas travel since 2015 and yet they struggle to sail the seas they’re supposed to serve.

“CMAL’s remit doesn’t extend beyond the Minch but they’ve run up almost £170,000 in overseas travel since 2015.

“This even includes periods when foreign travel was precluded through lockdown. It’s bad enough that CMAL are giving contracts for ships that should be built in Scotland.

Kenny MacAskill.
Kenny MacAskill.

“But it adds salt to the wound that whilst the ships they’ve provided for remote communities lie idle, berthed or being repaired, they’re jetting around the globe.”

‘Profound lack of understanding’

A spokesperson for CMAL hit back, saying: “This comment demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of CMAL’s role and the work we do to support Scotland’s ferry infrastructure.

“We have spent considerable time in past years searching the global second hand market for ferries to bring resilience to the fleet.

“It is vital that our vessels team inspect these ferries first hand to assess their suitability for the network.

They added: “We also visit shipyards during the evaluation stage of the new vessel procurement process to correlate the bid response from each yard with their reality, and attend factory acceptance tests for machinery.

“In terms of travel during lockdown, ferries are a lifeline service and many of our team were given critical worker status during the pandemic to maintain infrastructure.”

‘Failure after failure’

Hitting out at the government, Tory MSP Graham Simpson said: “The SNP have presided over failure after failure at Ferguson Marine.

“From endless delays, to spiralling costs, to ‘too-short’ cables, the SNP’s nationalised shipyard has become an utter laughing stock.

“But that should not distract us from the real casualties of this SNP incompetence – Scotland’s island communities.”

Earlier this month transport minister Jenny Gilruth praised the deal which will see new boats built abroad.

She said: “These links are some of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network and the new vessels will help to grow the island’s economy, as well as bring added resilience to the fleet.”

Recently it emerged that over half a million pounds of taxpayer money has been spent on private ferry advisors since 2015.

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