Scottish Government rules out purchase of new vessel for Mull

MV Pentalina undertaking berthing trials at Craignure Pier on Mull in June of this year. MV Pentalina was designed by the same company who created the proposed Mull catamaran, and is of similar size. Photograph courtesy of Mull and Iona Ferry Committee.

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Mull and Iona islanders have called for the First Minister of Scotland to visit the islands after the Scottish Transport Minister Graeme Day refused to sanction the purchase of a new boat for Mull, despite a summer of chaos across Scotland’s ageing ferry network.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) has also called for Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), the Scottish Government-run ferry procurement company, to publish its own report into the potential purchase of a catamaran that a team of naval architects at Strathclyde University found would be one of the safest in CalMac’s fleet.

Joe Reade, chairman of the MIFC, said: ‘We believe it is now time for the First Minister to come to Mull and Iona to hear directly from islanders and get to grips with the complete shambles engulfing Scotland’s lifeline ferry network.

‘Politicians and officials in Edinburgh seem to be looking the other way, whilst we desperately try to tell them what the problems are and how to fix them. It’s a slow moving car crash. The system is bordering on the dysfunctional.

‘There is an ideal vessel available on the market right now, but CMAL seems to be too arrogant and incompetent to take advantage of the opportunity. But even worse than that, they seem to be deliberately obstructing this much-needed vessel in the most shocking and scandalous manner that shows only contempt for islanders.’

CMAL has since defended its position saying its in-house naval architects and a third party naval architect firm both identified dozens of elements in the catamaran that did not comply with Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) requirements for a passenger certificate.

‘We are acutely aware of the need to replace vessels in the fleet and we have commenced an ambitious plan of vessel replacement as part of a £587 million investment to cover vessels and harbours over the next five years,’ said a CMAL spokesperson.

‘In addition, we are actively searching the global market for second-hand tonnage to provide more immediate relief to the service.

‘If this new-build catamaran was a viable solution, we would pull out all the stops to make the purchase happen. Unfortunately, the vessel is not compliant with the strict standards required to operate in the UK.

‘We have spent considerable time and resources over the course of a year assessing the vessel and engaging with the seller of the catamaran to address the modifications required to meet UK compliance and secure a passenger certificate.

‘We were unable to secure assurances from the seller that these requirements would be met. As a public body, we simply cannot spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a new-build vessel that may not be able to secure a passenger certificate and therefore never be able to operate on Scottish routes.’

Transport Scotland also assured members of the ferry committee and the island communities that the decision against pursuing the vessel has not been taken lightly.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘There has been a lack of confidence in the vessel’s suitability from the outset of this process, but we are confident CMAL has given it the appropriate level of due consideration given the strong feelings from the community on the issue.

‘We are actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage and looking at other credible, affordable and viable options to improve resilience. We would urge the committee to continue to work with Transport Scotland, CalMac and CMAL as we progress the MV Isle of Mull Replacement Programme.’

In its full account of events which have been published on its website, MIFC allege a catalogue of failings by CMAL in the handling of the potential purchase.