Members of a Holyrood Committee have visited the shipyard where two overdue and over-budget vessels to serve the Clyde and Hebrides ferries network are being built.

One vessel is intended to service the Lochmaddy-Uig-Tarbert route - and they will mean back-up vessels are available when other ships break down or are being serviced.

Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee is conducting an inquiry into the current and future challenges involved in the ferry procurement and construction process.

The Committee is aiming to establish what lessons can be learned for the procurement and construction of future new ferries after delays in the delivery of two new vessels being built at the Ferguson Marine yard.

The inquiry has already heard some evidence on the updated costs and timetable for the completion of two new hybrid ferries, following the Scottish Government’s decision to take public ownership of Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL). Further evidence sessions are scheduled in the coming weeks.

However, MSPs on the Committee recognised the importance of visiting the site to speak to the workforce, engineers and senior managers at the Port Glasgow shipyard and view for themselves the current status of the ships.

Committee Convener, Edward Mountain MSP said: “As part of its ongoing inquiry the Committee has heard a range of views about how the current situation whereby there are significant delays in the delivery of the vessels and cost overruns, has arisen.

“The Committee’s visit to the site gave us an opportunity not only to see the ships, but to learn more about the construction process. We were able to speak with current management and, importantly, the workers who have been involved in building the ships.

“This information will be very helpful as the inquiry progresses, as we aim to produce constructive recommendations for the procurement and construction of new ferries in future.”

The Committee agreed to hold an inquiry into construction and procurement of ferry vessels in Scotland at its meeting on 30 October 2019.

The remit of the inquiry is to identify and address current and future challenges and opportunities in the procurement of new vessels to support Scotland’s ferries network.

CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) placed orders for two new ferries with Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) in October 2015. The ferries are being delivered on a fixed-price basis under a design and build contract, with a combined fixed-price of £97m. The vessels are powered by hybrid marine gas oil/Liquid Natural Gas-powered engines, which are a world first for sea-going passenger and vehicle roll-on roll-off ferries.

The first ferry, MV Glen Sannox (vessel 801) was due to be delivered in summer 2018, with the second ferry (vessel 802) slightly later.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands wrote to the committee on 9 November 2017, highlighting a delay in the delivery of the ferries with vessel 801 delayed until Winter 2018/19 and vessel 802 some time later. 

The Cabinet Secretary wrote again to the committee on 16 August 2018 to advise that “…the first vessel, the MV Glen Sannox, will be delivered during Summer 2019 and the second vessel in Spring 2020”.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, wrote to the committee on 25 April 2019 advising that he anticipated a further delay to the delivery of both vessels.

The directors of FMEL filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators on 8 August 2019, effectively starting the process which would place the business in administration.

On 2 December 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed that it had taken the Ferguson Marine shipyard into public ownership following the rejection by administrators of three commercial bids for the company.

On 18 December 2019, the Scottish Government published the Ferguson Marine Programme Review Board report, which indicated a delivery range for vessel 801 of October to December 2021 and a delivery range of July to October 2022 for vessel 802, with an estimated outstanding cost for delivery of the two ferries of £110.3m.