Scotland’s premier ferry company plans to award its next, major shipbuilding contract to a non-UK yard. Detailed tenders for two vessels to serve the Islay route in the Hebrides have been invited by Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) from four builders in Poland, Romania and Turkey. The new ferries will be assigned to Scottish Government-owned CMAL’s Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) fleet.

Although Ferguson Marine was one of multiple participants in the initial round of bidding from yards around the world, the nationalised Scottish firm failed to make the shortlist.

The 1986-built Hebridean Isles is one of two ferries to be replaced by new ships on the Islay service

Source: CalMac

The 1986-built Hebridean Isles is one of two ferries to be replaced by new ships on the Islay service

Ferguson’s Port Glasgow yard has two 102m LNG dual-fuel ferries under construction for CMAL/CalMac, but a succession of problems has seen costs escalate and delivery dates pushed back considerably. Completion of the first of the pair is now forecast to take place during the third quarter of 2022, more than four years later than originally stipulated, with the second ship delayed until mid 2023.

The builders in the frame for the latest fleet renewal scheme, which entails two ro-pax vessels of about 95m length, are Turkey’s Sefine Denizcilik and Cemre Marin yards, Remontowa Shipbuilding of Poland, and the Romanian arm of Damen Shipyards Group. An order is expected to be signed before the end of March 2022.

The envisaged ferries will be higher capacity, more fuel-efficient replacements for the two existing ro-pax mainstays of the lifeline service to Islay, from where a connection is provided to the neighbouring island of Jura.

The diesel-electric power and propulsion system will have a hybrid element in the form of a bank of lithium-ion batteries. Rather than opting for LNG-capable plant, the main machinery to be nominated will run on low-sulphur marine gas oil (MGO), containing no more than 0.1% sulphur. Azimuthing propulsors will be complemented by two bow thrusters.

CMAL stated this month that “The Islay route is one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde & Hebrides network, and the two new ferries will support the island’s vital economic activity. Sufficient passenger accommodation will be designed to meet an anticipated increase in passenger demand. They will have greater vehicle capacity than the current vessels on the route, and will have a significantly lower energy requirement. They will be designed with a clear focus on freight, including the capability to operate a possible overnight freight service forecasted 2028/2029.”

It is understood that the preliminary specification calls for a freight load intake corresponding to 14 heavy goods vehicles of 34.5t or 11 of 44t, amounting to a 40% increase compared to the most modern of the two existing ships, the 90m Finlaggan. The design would offer an advance of some 30% in deck space for cars.

The intended direction of CMAL’s construction project underscores the commercial realities of the newbuild market, eclipsing the industrial aspirations of both central and devolved governments. The UK’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, a much-vaunted bid by the Westminster administration to bolster the industry by providing a ‘pipeline’ of public sector contracts, had been due for publication during the past autumn, but is now anticipated in early 2022.

CMAL is also looking to replace seven small, Loch-class vessels in CalMac’s Clyde & Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network.

The so-called Small Vessel Replacement Programme, which potentially embraces up to 10 ferries, will focus on low-emission characteristics, in line with the Scottish Government’s climate change commitments , and will build on experience with three 44m, mould-breaking, hybrid diesel-electric ferries delivered from the Ferguson yard between 2013 and 2015. During August 2021, the German technical consultancy naVALUE, domiciled at Flensburg, was appointed to prepare the concept design for the programme.

Furthermore, CMAL’s mid-term planning includes two new freight-carrying ferries to serve the Northern Isles.