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Arran is likely to have a new ferry serving on the main Brodick to Ardrossan route before the end of July.
The MV Pentalina catamaran is being lined up to provide back-up on the route if a lease can be finalised with her owners, Pentland Ferries.
A contract is expected to be signed by the end of next week which could see her in service by July 28. It is likely the ferry would initially be used to provide additional cover three days a week from Thursday to Sunday while the MV Isle of Arran services the Campbeltown route, but this is still to be finalised. She would also be available in the event of breakdowns.
The leasing of the catamaran is a major shift for both CalMac and Transport Scotland, who have previously resisted such a move. However the operation of this vessel will have constraints. The wider ramp means it cannot use the Arran berth at Ardrossan, and will have to use the Irish berth, and since it is not a ro-ro ferry turnaround times on the single ended vessel will be longer.
The arrival of the MV Pentalina in Brodick on Monday caused a wave of excitement as she carried out berthing trials at both piers in Brodick before heading for Ardrossan. There were anxious moments as the catamaran tried to dock at the Brodick linkspan – initially the ramp would not go fully down, but this was quickly resolved. The catamaran then had a look at the other side of the pier but did not dock.
The catamaran, which is currently not in service, left Kirkwall, Orkney, on Friday and travelled down the west coast over the weekend arriving in Campbeltown on Sunday, where it also carried out berthing trials, before making the short crossing to Arran.
The boat then visited Oban and Craignure on Mull as part of the trials. Other ports are being considered where she could also serve. The leasing the MV Pentalina is a bid to provide back-up for the badly stretched fleet of vessels on the Clyde and Hebridean ferries. A situation which has not been helped by the long delay to the new Arran ferry the MV Glen Sannox and her sister ship, still under construction in Port Glasgow.
However, the RMT union has raised concerns about the fact that the MV Pentalina had been laid up in Kirkwall since last November, and the appropriateness of the vessel’s structure for the CalMac network. Pentland Ferries says the catamaran was reissued with a full passenger safety certificate in March of this year.
MV Pentalina is a 70m RoPax catamaran ferry purchased by Pentland Ferries in 2008 to operate between Gills Bay, Caithness and St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney. In normal times she can carry 350 passengers and 58 cars, but would be restricted to 183 passengers at the moment.
She was designed by the naval architects, Sea Transport Solutions of Australia, and built in Cebu in the Philippines at a cost estimated between £10 and £15 million. She was replaced by the MV Alfred on the Orkney route in November 2019.
Last year John Salton, a CMAL fleet engineer and an Arran resident, investigated 101 vessels and another 33 vessels this year to potentially lease or buy and boost the CalMac fleet in the short to medium term. Few vessels are suitable due to deck height, draft, length and myriad other issues. The Pentalina and one in Norway are the only contenders at present.
Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: ‘CalMac has said that it would welcome any new tonnage to the fleet, as long as it was safe and suitable for our routes.
‘We are currently working with Transport Scotland to investigate the feasibility of leasing the MV Pentalina catamaran from Pentland Ferries to provide additional resilience across the network.
A Transport Scotland spokesman added: ‘CalMac will consult with relevant communities to discuss proposed timetables and deployment options and seek a commercial agreement with Pentland Ferries before deployment on the network.’
All photographs by Hugh Boag