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A local ferry committee has called on the Scottish Government to resolve a dispute over the purchase of a catamaran before parliament rises for the election.
The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd remained at loggerheads over a £12 million catamaran as the Scottish parliament went into recess on Thursday March 25 ahead of the elections six weeks away.
The ferry committee has argued that a catamaran could transform the Oban to Mull route by being cheaper to buy, run and offer more frequent and reliable services.
But CMAL, which owns the ferries, ports, harbours and infrastructure, has strongly rejected the idea so far after saying studies showed it required ‘significant modification’.
In the latest development, the committee says those concerns have been ‘comprehensively dismissed’ in a new report commissioned from the Department of Naval Architecture at Strathclyde University.
The report makes the case that the catamaran would ‘instantly become one of the safest and most efficient in CalMac’s ageing fleet’ and would ‘exceed’ Maritime and Coastguard Agency safety requirements; requiring only ‘minimal’ modifications.
A Transport Scotland spokesperson commented: ‘Scottish Minsters received the report from the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee on Sunday and will review it alongside CMAL and its consultants.
‘It would not be appropriate to comment further until this material has been reviewed.’
And a spokesperson for CMAL said: ‘We will review the report in detail and we have asked one of our independent naval architect consultancy firms to also review it.’
Politicians and island groups have spoken out in support of the catamaran following the report.
Michael Russell, the outgoing Argyll and Bute MSP for the SNP, who steps down at this election, said the catamaran represented a ‘first-rate’ opportunity.
Mr Russell commented: ‘The Strathclyde Report, the commissioning of which I was glad to support, indicates absolutely clearly that the vessel would be a good purchase at a low price compared to recent costs of ferries commissioned by CMAL.
‘It is also available now which is an essential consideration given the long delays to the CMAL commissioned vessels and the long lead time for a new Mull vessel which hasn’t even been commissioned yet.’
Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, said in a statement that it was time for islands minister Paul Wheelhouse to step in and instruct CMAL to agree terms on the catamaran before another buyer snapped it up.
‘CMAL has spent nearly £200m of taxpayers money on two ferries that are nowhere near ready and are four years late,’ said Mr Reade.
‘Yet when the opportunity presents itself to acquire a ferry that is available right now, they dismiss it out of hand and create artificial safety obstructions – making assertions that have now been comprehensively dismissed by the respected academics of Strathclyde University’s Department of Naval Architecture.’
Moray Finch, general manager of Mull & Iona Community Trust and Shiona Ruhemann of Iona Community Council have both backed the catamaran plan and urged action.