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Opinion by Hugh Boag
The blame game of who is responsible for the Arran ferry fiasco has raged all week.
But the war of words will not get the Arran ferry into service any sooner. Indeed, the only development on the ferry delivery front was confirmation of the Arran Banner story in February that the MV Glen Sannox won’t be in service until 2023.
David Tydeman, the yard’s new chief executive, told the Scottish parliament last week the new Arran ferry, and her sister ship Hull 802, would now be delivered between March and May 2023 – another eight-month delay, and that is before at least three months of sea trials.
Former Ferguson Marine owner Jim McColl has certainly been stirring things up claiming the deal was rushed through ‘for political capital’ and says he would have walked away from the contract if he had known the opposition of the original customer Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).
Although, in a complicated arrangement, they no longer own the boats but will buy them back when complete at market value, whatever that means for the taxpayer.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said during what seems to have been a long week of ferry debate on TV and in the press, following the damning report by Audit Scotland highlighted in the Banner last week, that the ‘buck stops with me’. All of which has led to calls for a full public inquiry into the whole sorry affair.
And sadly on the ferry front things don’t seem to be looking any brighter in the near future.
In an interview with the Financial Times this week, CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond accepted services were at a ‘really difficult point’.
Mr Drummond said CalMac was facing increasingly extreme weather with a contract that required it to operate at ‘maximum stretch’, while passenger volumes had grown dramatically since the government introduced a cheaper vehicle fare structure between 2008 and 2015.
‘If a sailing is cancelled, our options to move people on to another sailing are limited because those next sailings are all full,’ he told the paper. ‘When there’s an issue, there’s no spare vessel for us to go and provide some cover.’
But with other vital new ferries not expected until 2024 and demand likely to hit new records, Mr Drummond accepted there would be no imminent end to islanders’ transport woes.
‘We are working incredibly hard to keep the system resilient, but the next two years are going to be immensely challenging,’ he said.
Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman. No-B52ferguson01
CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond. 01_B39drummond01