The Clansman is one of CalMac’s newer vessels, built in 1998 and 21 years old. As many of you will know, she is currently laid-up in Oban with a major engine fault, and probably won’t be back in service until Sunday or Monday.
In the meantime, in the absence of any spare ships CalMac are having to shuffle their major vessels around in order to maintain a reasonable level of service, and the Oban – Craignure route is one of those affected. Local CalMac staff and management are doing a great job in responding to a crisis that is not of their making. Thanks should go out to all the front-line staff who are having to cope in these trying circumstances.
The cause of the problem is chronic under-investment in the fleet by Scottish Government. Some might also argue that what investment has been made has been poorly spent – note the two new ‘dual fuel’ vessels currently under construction on the Clyde. They are two years behind schedule and now embroiled in a contractual dispute between FMEL (the builder) and CMAL, the state-owned company that owns all the ships. Those two ferries are costing £48 million a piece (and it could end up being a lot more).
The cost of replacement CalMac ferries seems to be spiralling ever upward, and the pace at which they are replaced seems to be slowing. Other operators have demonstrated more prudent spending. Take for example Pentland Ferries, who run completely un-subsidised services across the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Their Catamaran The Pentalina, (car capacity of 75) was built in 2008 at a cost of £7million. Compare that to CalMac’s Finlaggan (car capacity 85), built at about the same time for £25 million – more than three times the cost.
Despite only being 11 years old, the Pentalina is about to be replaced by a new, bigger Catamaran the Alfred (car capacity 98) at a cost of just £14.5 million. Pentland Ferries manages this without any tax-payer subsidy.
The CMAL / CalMac fleet of major vessels is now on average 24 years old. The oldest, MV Isle of Arran, was built 36 years ago. Our own MV Isle of Mull is now 32 years old. Replacements are long over-due. The age of the ferries is a major contributor to breakdowns like this week’s, and with no spare ships the knock-on effect of a breakdown is severe. The pace of ferry replacement urgently needs to be improved. That may need not just more spending, but better spending.