Report probes why CMAL ferries cost so much

The MV Isle of Arran tied up in Brodick this week. 

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By Hugh Boag

As the row over the long overdue Arran ferry rumbled on this week, the government agency which ordered the MV Glen Sannox, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), became embroiled in a new row.

For it has emerged that two new ferries ordered by CMAL from a shipyard in Turkey will cost almost double the price of a Norwegian ferry being built at the yard at the same time.


A report by Mull and Iona Ferry Committee that despite having a higher passenger and vehicle capacity than CMAL’s new vessels and being a truly cutting-edge, zero-emission battery-electric vessel, the new ferry for Norwegian operator Torghatten Nord will be approximately half the price of each of the new CalMac ferries.

Last month CMAL announced the contract to build two new ferries for Islay had been awarded to Turkish shipyard Cemre. The pair of diesel-electric ferries will carry 107 cars and 350 people and cost £52 million each. This week, the Norwegian ferry operator Torghatten Nord has announced an order from the same Turkish shipyard for a ferry of slightly larger capacity – 120 cars and 399 passengers – costing £26 to £31 million.

And the ferry committee report spells out exactly why the CMAL ferries are costing so much, not even taking into account the ferry fiasco with the Arran ferry at Ferguson Marine. The new ferries will have:

Cabins for 31 crew members, plus mess, kitchen, gym and everything else required for crew living aboard. By contrast, the Norwegian ferry has a crew of just 10. Thanks to good design, this crew of 10 are sufficient to operate the ferry around the clock. The CMAL ferry must stop to allow its far larger crew to rest.


A unique design. With each new ferry procurement, CMAL starts with a blank sheet of paper and develops a unique ferry, never before built. The Norwegian vessel by contrast uses a common design that will be repeated for future vessels. It’s far cheaper to make the same thing over and over than to start from scratch each time.

Complexity. CMAL’s design includes expensive and complicated engineering – like vehicle ramps that can move left and right to enable a wide boat to fit narrow linkspans and hoistable mezzanines to fit more cars into a restricted car deck.

Large passenger spaces with on-board catering. This all adds more steel, more fabrication, more weight and more cost.

Finally, publishing the price you expect to pay 12 months before putting the tender out doesn’t help your negotiating position.

The report concludes: ‘The way to speed up ferry renewal is to make the ferries more affordable. To make them more affordable, naval architects have to be working to a better set of priorities. They should be focussing on operational productivity, value for money, fuel efficiency and emissions. Norway encourage those priorities by having an unbundled ferry tendering process, enabling true competition at tendering time.

‘If we continue on the current course, nothing will change. The 801/2 fiasco (MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802) is an extreme symptom of a dysfunctional ferry procurement process that designs in waste, complexity and high cost. As can be seen by this comparison it is being repeated again in the vessels for Islay, though this time the contract has been given to a competent shipyard.’