Mull ferry row escalates

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A new front has opened up in the war of words between Mull and Iona Ferry Committee and the national owner of CalMac’s fleet, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), this time over catamarans versus monohulls.

In the latest installment of its investigation, titled ‘The Ferry That CMAL Designed To Fail’, Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) again focused on CMAL’s public consultation last year to choose replacement ferries for Islay, which compared a catamaran against a monohull.

In March this year, CMAL named Cemre shipyard as its preferred bidder to build two monohulls for the route, due in 2024 and 2025.

Last week, MIFC’s chairman Joe Reade said: ‘CMALs cynical and manipulative use of a catamaran design that was deliberately designed to fail is harmful to both islanders and taxpayers. It’s shameful.’

‘This blatantly biased and error-riddled so-called ‘consultation’ is a scandal,’ added Dr Alf Baird, a ‘long-time critic of Scottish Government ferry policy’, in MIFC’s statement. ‘If this is the calibre of work and level of oversight that goes into decisions worth hundreds of millions of pounds, goodness help us.’

In a taut response, CMAL refused to recognise ‘the individuals quoted as ferry experts’, and denied it was anti-catamaran. In fact, it said, it is considering one for the Dunoon to Gourock route.

The MIFC’s full investigation can be read on its website, but Mr Reade summed up, saying: ‘CMAL held a public online ‘consultation’ on options for new ferries for Islay in January 2021. A table compared an un-named catamaran with CMAL’s ‘preferred’ monohull option.

‘It rated the catamaran as worse than the monohull on every measure. It caught not just our attention, but also that of industry professionals with whom we have regular contact.

‘The two natural advantages of good catamaran designs are that they have a shallow draught (great for the restricted waters of many ports in the Hebrides), and they are efficient, requiring less energy to push them through the water.

‘CMAL’s catamaran exhibited neither of these advantages, and instead was both deep-draughted and very fuel-thirsty. Apparently on the basis of these two ‘showstopper’ attributes, CMAL discounted their catamaran.

‘We wanted to know more about this catamaran of CMAL’s and understand why it was so uncompetitive. We asked CMAL for the key specifications of their design, and also for copies of the general arrangement (GA) drawings. All were refused. We persisted and appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner. After a year of trying, they relinquished the GA drawing. What we have discovered is shocking, but unsurprising.

‘Rather than consider proven catamaran designs (ie those that have been built and are in service) from recognised specialists, CMAL chose to ask the designers who had already created their monohull options to hurriedly draft a catamaran in time for a public presentation that already had a ‘preferred’ outcome.

‘The clear conclusion is that this catamaran was designed to fail. It was designed to prove a viewpoint; to support the entrenched position of CMAL that they will not consider a catamaran for the CalMac major vessel fleet.

‘CMAL have a long history of being anti-catamaran. But why? It appears to be a mixture of dogma and pride. CMAL’s poor attitude is perhaps because they fear that the best examples of good catamaran design will demonstrate how poor CalMac vessels are.’

Dr Alf Baird, formerly Professor of Marine Business at Edinburgh Napier University, said: ‘You have to wonder who’s marking CMAL’s homework, if they can get away with this sort of thing.

‘Unfortunately, I am not surprised, but the blatant squandering of enormous sums of public money in return for ever worsening ferry service provision is totally unacceptable.’

A CMAL spokesperson responded: ‘We do not recognise the individuals quoted as ferry experts, and they don’t have all the information necessary to make robust assessments and comparisons.

‘Our analysis and consultation for the two Islay vessels was extensive, and the Islay Ferry Committee has stated its satisfaction with the level of engagement and the two boats on order.

‘CMAL is not anti-catamaran; in fact, we are considering a catamaran for the Dunoon – Kilcreggan – Gourock route. We deal in facts not fiction, and will only ever order the vessels best suited to the routes and communities they’re intended to serve.’