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By Hugh Boag
There were growing calls this week for the new ferries being built on the Clyde to be scrapped and the work started again.
One of the ferries, the MV Glen Sannox, should already be in service on the Arran route, but instead lies rusting at the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow.
But the prospect of yet further delays to the arrival of a new ferry for the Ardrossan to Brodick route will be a major concern to the travelling public as well as businesses and tourist providers.
The Isle of Arran Ferry Committee, in a written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the ferry fiasco, claims the delay in delivery of the MV Glen Sannox has cost the island economy £18/£20m. They also say there has been a major impact on the ‘quality of life’ for residents who have recently been unable to travel when required to satisfy personal, health and business appointments because of increased ferry cancellations of the older boats on the route.
However, the full state of the deterioration of the MV Glen Sannox and her sister ship, only known as Hull 802, was the subject of a major expose in The Sunday Post last weekend.
Marine experts who studies photographs of the ferries, taken by the newspaper, expressed alarm at the amount of serious damage which was clearly visible including deformed steel plates, extensive rusting and the serious build up of marine growth. They also said the ships should have been built undercover but that the yard was never suitable to build the two ships side by side.
The expose came just days after the rural economy and connectivity committee of the Scottish parliament held its second day of evidence of the inquiry into the procurement and construction of the two ferries.
They heard evidence session from ferry experts and representatives of community/ferry user groups. And it emerged that Ferguson Marine’s bid for the vessels was the highest of those submitted.
The partially-built MV Glen Sannox and its unnamed sister ship are now expected to cost £100 million – more than twice their original £97 million price with fears it could be even higher. They are not expected to be completed until 2022 at the earliest, if at all.
Consultant and author Roy Pedersen told the inquiry they should both be scrapped and the work started again. He said: ‘If it was me making the decision, I would scrap both of them.’
Alf Baird, a former professor of maritime business at Edinburgh Napier University, said their design should be stripped down to basic vessels with their passenger capacity reduced.
He said the design was ‘specifying what is in effect a mini-cruise vessel to run a utilitarian shuttle ferry which is basically a bus’.
He said: ‘If we could re-specify the two vessels to carry 500 passengers instead of 1,000 we could take that £110m overspend down to about £50 or £60m.
‘They could just make it a more normal ferry, what I call a utilitarian island ferry with lino instead of carpets. You don’t need the art treasures, the a la carte restaurants for for a one-hour voyage to Arran. I live on Orkney and we’re quite used to just a bacon roll and a coffee.’
Scottish Liberal Democrats transport spokesman and committee member Mike Rumbles said a letter from Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland to infrastructure secretary Keith Brown in 2015 revealed that six shipyards tendered for the contract and Ferguson Marine was the highest-priced bidder.
When he asked why that was, Mr Pedersen told the committee: ‘I don’t know the answer, but three things spring to mind – one is incompetence, the other is vested interest and the other is corruption.’
On the call to scrap the vessels, a Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘Scottish Ministers considered all options when deciding how to proceed. Ministers’ commitment is to the vessels, the workforce and the yard. Scrapping the vessels and starting again would not meet those objectives.’
The parliamentary inquiry this week heard evidence from the former management of Ferguson Marine, including former boss Jim McColl, with two further days of evidence still to be heard.
There has been little change to the unfinished MV Glen Sannox pictured at the Ferguson Marine yard last year. NO_B06sannox01