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The preferred bidder has been named for a contract to build two new ferries on routes from the ports at Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbert.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) announced today (Friday December 23) that it intends to award the contract to the Cemre Marin Endustri A.S shipyard in Turkey, following a 10 day standstill period.

In October 2022, The Scottish Government prioritised additional funding to enable CMAL to accelerate plans for replacement vessels.

The two new vessels will be built to the same specification as the existing ferries under construction at Cemre for Islay. This will speed up the replacement of the major vessel fleet and provide a more standardised vessel type that can be used on a variety of different routes.

Jim Anderson, Director of Vessels at CMAL said: “This is a big step forward in procuring two new vessels for the Little Minch routes to Lochmaddy and Tarbert. These ferries will deliver dedicated services to North Uist and Harris in the peak season, rather than the shared vessel operation currently in place.

“We will now enter a 10 day standstill period before finalising the contract. We intend to  share an update in early January after the festive period with further information, such as forecasted delivery dates.”

Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth said:“The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to improving the lifeline ferry fleet and better meeting the needs of island communities, so I’m pleased to see CMAL name the preferred bidder for the two additional ferries. I hope this progress will be welcomed by island communities who depend on these lifeline ferry services.”

“Our intention is that these vessels will be deployed on the Skye triangle routes to Lochmaddy and Tarbert, creating the opportunity to significantly increase capacity and resilience by delivering dedicated services to communities in the peak season.

“It will also allow consideration of all options to deploy Vessel 802 on an alternative route. All of these options will be discussed with island communities, including potentially operating alongside her sister ship, the MV Glen Sannox, to provide additional capacity to and from Arran in the peak season.

“It is imperative that island communities have their say in any future deployments. I look forward to continuing engagement through our work on Project Neptune to improve the delivery of ferry services on the Clyde and Hebrides network.”

The construction of the earlier two new ferries for Islay got officially under way after the first piece of steel was cut on 3 October.  The new 94.8-metre ferries will each have capacity for up to 450 passengers and 100 cars or 14 commercial vehicles, providing a combined 40% increase in vehicle and freight capacity on the Islay routes and improving the overall resilience of the wider fleet.  Carbon reduction has been a key factor in vessel design and the new ferries are expected to deliver a significant reduction in emissions.

The £91 million contract to build the two ferries was awarded by CMAL to Cemre Marin Endustri in Turkey in March 2022 after a competitive procurement process.  The first vessel is expected to be delivered by October 2024 and will enter service following sea trials and crew familiarisation.  The second vessel will follow in early 2025.

Responding to the latest announcement this afternoon, Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said:"It looks like the contract for yet another two ferries is off to Turkey which is a stark reminder of the mismanagement of the ferry construction programme under the SNP.

“Over budget and over time - that is the hallmark of the SNP and it is the islanders, the taxpayers and the shipyard workers that feel the pain. No wonder Scottish Government-owned Ferguson didn't even bid for these two ferries.

"We need a recovery programme for Ferguson so that it is capable of winning future contracts."