Are catamarans the answer to CalMac woes?

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John Lamont of Dippen firmly believes that CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland should consider utilising catamarans (multi-hulled vessels) instead of monohulled vessels, such as the two currently being constructed by Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow.

In a submitted article to the Banner, John makes the case as to why he believes that catamarans will be more reliable, financially viable and ecologically beneficial.

Prior to submission, and to ensure accuracy, he also sent the details to Alf Baird who was the professor of maritime business and director of the Maritime Research group at Edinburgh Napier University.

Main story 

As winter approaches weather disruptions will, undoubtedly, have an adverse impact on the Brodick to Ardrossan ferry service.

Between February 10 and 22, 2020, the Orkney severe gale wind speeds were recorded at 40knots, gusting to 60 knots.

The Hammavoe, a conventional monohull 600-passenger, 100 car, vessel which is part of the Serco group operating on the Aberdeen/Orkney/Shetland route, cancelled services on five days. The subsidy between 2012/19 to Serco from Scottish Government coffers was £285 million.

By comparison, the Alfred, Pentland Ferries unsubsidised catamaran (85 metres, 430 passenger capacity and 100 cars) sailed every day to Orkney during the same storms – around three return trips daily.

The steel-hull catamaran vessel, built at a cost of £14.5 million between 2017/19, on completion, sailed 9000 miles from Vietnam to Orkney and has appropriate UK MCA certification.

Pentland Ferries have provided a reliable, unsubsidised, ‘weather immune’ service since introducing catamarans in 2009.

Pentland Ferries had previously used ex-CalMac monohulls, Iona and Claymore, and these boats were replaced by larger capacity catamarans to provide an improved service.

CMAL deem catamarans unfit for use in the ‘treacherous waters’ of the West Coast, without any concrete evidence being offered.

The proposed new Islay monohull ferry will require 300 tons of seawater ballast to counter the vessel height – an extra 15, 20-ton lorries per trip – a wasteful exercise in direct contrast to any ‘green’ commitments. The catamarans are so stable on two hulls that they don’t need any ballast tanks for added stability.

Additionally as COP26 is held, Pentland Ferries latest catamaran MV Alfred has been awarded a VIBES Scottish Environment Business award for the cleanest, greenest ferry in Scotland with a fuel and emissions footprint 50 per cent less than a similar capacity CalMac monohull, and requiring a crew of just 14 as opposed to around 30 on CalMac boats.

A new catamaran is available in January 2022 – 65 metres long and able to load 80 cars – and at a price of just £12 million, 25 per cent of the cost of a large CalMac monohull, if it is delivered on time and budget.

The operating subsidy for CalMac between 2012/19 was £750 million, excluding capital costs of ships and ports.

Is it time for an extended trial of an alternative proven ferry type rather than an oft-repeated unsubstantiated mantra of ‘not fit for purpose’ from our ‘always know best’ Edinburgh based marine experts, Transport Scotland?

Is the reality that the RMT determine the safety and suitability of vessels and insist on no change, regardless of the urgent need for improvements to the service?

Catamaran supporter John Lamont.