CalMac spends £9M on second-hand ferry for Mull

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After a ‘long and challenging search’ a second-hand ferry from Norway has been bought for £9 million to run the Oban-Craignure route, bringing benefits to Skye and the Western Isles, the owner of CalMac’s ferry fleet has announced.

The MV Utne, a roll-on roll-off passenger and cargo ship built in 2014, is due to start service early next year, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) said on Monday. The 50m long vessel will accommodate 195 passengers and 34 cars.

The purchase comes after a summer of cancellations and disruption across the CalMac ferry network due to breakdowns with the ageing ferry fleet.

‘Communities in Skye and the Western Isles will also benefit as a result of the cascade of vessels elsewhere on the network,’ CMAL said.

MV Utne is being bought from Norled, the Norwegian shipping company that operates 45 car ferries, for an undisclosed sum. However, CMAL estimates the total cost, including modifications, will be £9m – a tenth the price of the new lifeline island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018 and are more than four years late, with costs doubling in total to more than £200m.

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL, said: ‘The search for a suitable second-hand vessel has been long and challenging, and we’ve experienced a few false starts. But we are glad to bring this much-needed second-hand tonnage to the fleet to provide the operator, CalMac, with some resilience.

‘MV Utne has been operating successfully, with a fully compliant passenger certificate from the Norwegian Maritime Board. The vessel has operated for five years in Norwegian waters and that offers us confidence in its compliance, safety and operability.’

‘As is usual with second-hand vehicles, we had a look at the MV Utne’s service history. According to ship tracker FleetMon, two years after it was built, the ‘ferry Utne ran aground while approaching berth at Saevroy, Austrheim, north of Bergen, Norway, in the afternoon Nov 25 [2016]. Grounding was caused by engine failure.’

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: ‘The addition of the MV Utne to the CalMac fleet is extremely welcome and will bring much-needed resilience to the network. We will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland and CMAL to determine how best MV Utne can support our delivery of lifeline services.’

The MV Utne will transfer to CMAL around the end of October, before undergoing modification work to allow it to enter service on the Oban-Craignure route. The works are expected to be completed by early 2022, with CalMac staff then undergoing on-board training and familiarisation.

Councillor Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said: ‘This is welcome news. Sustainable transport links to and from our islands are key to supporting community life and attracting the people and skills we need for a successful future.

‘We will continue to raise the local and national importance of this and look forward to hearing more details about how this additional ferry will be put to work for our communities, businesses and visitors.’

Minister for Transport Graeme Dey said: ‘The Scottish Government has committed £580 million to fund new ferries and port investments over the next five years.’