Stick to your own boats, Islay’s ferry group tells Mull committee

Islay's two new CalMac ferries will operate in the busiest route on the Clyde and Hebrides network. The 95 metre long vessels will have the capacity of 275-lanemeter for HGVs on the main deck, and a total of 107 cars on both main and hoistable decks. They will increase the freight and vehicle capacity on the Islay and Jura routes by 40 per cent, while reducing the carbon footprint thanks to its diesel/hybrid propulsion system.

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Mull and Iona’s ferry committee should concentrate on their own vessels, not Islay’s in its war of words with the national owner of CalMac’s fleet, Islay Community Council has heard.

The row is over whether an ageing CalMac ferry destined for scrap should be replaced by an even bigger ferry, or two smaller ones.

The spat started when Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) awarded a contract to build Islay’s two new ferries to a shipyard, Cemre.

With Mull and Iona next in line for a ferry replacement, Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) launched its own investigation into CMAL’s procurement process.

MFIC deemed CMAL’s decision-making ‘deeply flawed’, saying: ‘CalMac/CMAL/ Transport Scotland (the decision-making is shared between all three agencies) have repeatedly opted for a small number of ever-larger ferries. This is a failing strategy.

‘We have looked at the handling of the new Islay ferry programme with some consternation – because yet again, CMAL appear to have pushed ahead with the largest option on the table and have used a questionable “consultation” to denigrate the alternative – a pair of smaller ferries.’

MFIC argued Islay’s two old ferries, the Finlaggan and the Hebridean Isles, should be replaced by four vessels, not two.

Denying MIFC’s ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate’ claims, CMAL stated: ‘A comprehensive stakeholder engagement exercise was undertaken to support and inform the replacement vessels for Islay. The Islay and Jura Ferry Committee were very satisfied with the process and have been very supportive of our work.’

The Islay ferry committee had its say at the island’s community council meeting on Wednesday April 20.

‘It gives us a nice warm feeling to have Mull and Iona Ferry Committee taking such an interest in the needs for Islay, which we have been discussing with CMAL over a period of two years, basically from scratch,’ said Jim Porteous, secretary of Islay Community Council Ferry Committee.

‘CMAL has held two webinars on this island for the community, and at each of those webinars they have had a detailed question and answer session, which has included the benefits of two ferries versus three ferries, etc., because people have raised those. All of that has been published on CMAL’s website.

‘We are not comparing like-with-like. Mull is a 50-minute crossing from Oban to Craignure, whereas Islay is more than two hours. The main cargo on the Islay service is freight, lorries. So therefore the deadweight capacity on the ship is vitally important – not so important on Mull.

‘We have been assured these new ships with increased draft, being monohulls, being the length and breadth that they will be, can actually accommodate better deadweight than four small ships could accommodate. There are also logistical issues, if there were four small ships trying to obtain berths at the three different ports that we have.

‘We have been through all this with CMAL. They know the volumes that we handle. They know the deadweights. They know the frequencies that we have. They know the distances and the timings, and so on, and it’s all been discussed at great length.

‘With all the greatest of respects to Mull and Iona Ferry Committee, whom I have spoken with, they don’t actually have any real knowledge at all, or experience, of our route.

‘We would rather they just stuck to their own particular needs and requirements, of which I am sure they know a lot more about.

‘They have tried to influence what we got, but they are far too late: the contracts have been signed. The ferries are coming. So they can bang on about it as much as they like, but, really, it would be nice to see them concentrating on their own requirements.’

The community council’s vice convener Garry MacLean wondered: ‘So, you are saying the ship has sailed?’