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The procurement of the new ferries for the Tarbert-Uig-Lochmaddy triangle and the Ardrossan-Brodick crossing has come under heavy criticism from the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee in a highly detailed criticism of the entire arrangement - including the claim that the ferries' biggest failing is that they will only increase greenhouse gas emissions, not reduce them.

A central and prominent claim made in support of these vessels is that their hybrid LNG/Oil engines will result in lower emissions. This is demonstrably not the case, says the report which has been submitted to the Scottish Parliament.

LNG propulsion appears to have been added to the design as an afterthought, without first attempting to find the most efficient ship form in the first place. “To use an analogy, it is a little like occasionally filling a V8 muscle car with biofuel, without first considering whether a smaller car with a more efficient engine might get a better result,” says the committee.

They say their reports attempts to take the reader through the arguments and evidence that MIFC has amassed over the past 18 months, that leads them to conclude that hulls 801 – now Glen Sannox – and 802 are not suited to their intended routes on multiple grounds.

  • They perpetuate a ship design paradigm that is expensive to buy and operate.
  • They are built around the needs of a historical and embedded crewing regime, rather than the needs of the users and the route.
  • They are built to deadweight requirements that the data shows is highly inflated. This deadweight capacity has a direct and negative effect on fuel efficiency.
  • They are built to accommodate passenger numbers far in excess of the requirements of the route. This adds considerable operating costs.
  • They are vulnerable to high winds due to the tall superstructure and old-fashioned propulsion set-up. This is contributing to an increasing weather cancellation rate.
  • There is no evidence that alternative vessel designs and hull forms have been explored.

The committee continue that whilst “there has been a great deal of public discussion about the failure of FMEL, the overspend and the late delivery, even if the contract had been executed flawlessly these vessels would not be right for the routes they will serve.

“From everything we have read and learned, the decision process that led to the selection of these designs remains opaque. It is not clear whether it is CalMac, CMAL or Transport Scotland that is at the centre of decision-making on vessel choice, and there are no detailed design criteria available for examination.

“We are unable therefore to form any conclusion on why this design was chosen, or which agency made the key decisions on design. Central to understanding the decision process would be to see the ‘Specification of Operational Requirements’, which is a document produced by CalMac and passed to CMAL that stipulates and justifies the operational requirements of the vessel.

“We would hope to see analysis of passenger carryings, carrying statistics and a commercial business case within that document. However, thus far our requests to see the Specification of Operational Requirements under FOI have been refused.”

The procurement of hulls 801 and 802 began life as the ‘MARS’ project (Mull & Arran Replacement Ships)in 2012. A public CMAL presentation (LINK) from December 2012 covers the Brodick redevelopment and ferry design choices.

In this presentation, various design options were outlined: traditional monohulls; Norwegian style bi-directional monohulls and a 70m catamaran proposal from STS. The presentation compares options, particularly focussing on the block coefficient of each. Block coefficient is in simple terms a number that indicates how much energy it will take to push the vessel through the water. The higher the block coefficient,the more energy is needed. As can be seen from the table to the left, the Catamaran design has by far the most efficient hull, followed by the Norwegian bi-directional. All traditional monohulls have significantly higher block coefficients – ie they need more energy to propel them. On this important metric therefore, it appears that the worst option was chosen.

“It was clear is that both the Norwegian and catamaran options offer huge saving potential, both in capital and running costs. Two catamarans or Norwegian bi-directionals could have been bought for less than the original contract price of 801/802, and these two ships would together have been cheaper to run than one 801/802, whilst offering double the service frequency and 60% more combined capacity.

For the medium-speed catamaran option…the report points out that there is now a working example in Scottish waters demonstrating its capabilities. Pentland Ferries have been using a medium-speed catamaran to link Orkney with the mainland at Gills Bay since 2008, and such has been the commercial and operational success of this choice, that the company has already taken delivery of a new and larger catamaran in 2019 – the MV Alfred. Alfred has a car capacity of 98, a passenger capacity of 430 (ie just over4:1), a crew of 12-14 and consumes just 630 litres of fuel per hour. Her build cost was just £14 million, from a Vietnamese shipyard. (A European shipyard is estimated to have cost around £20 million).

Pentland Ferries have proven the medium-speed catamaran to be a reliable vessel, crossing some of the wildest waters on Scotland’s coast. Her reliability record is better than the Northlink monohull that operates in parallel with it, and the company is competitive despite being entirely self-funding and not in receipt of any operational or capital subsidies.