Edinburgh and Mull have different realities.

Disappointment with the Loch Frisa prompted two people from Mull to write separately to the Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth. One of them was Janna Greenhalgh of Round and About, and she shared the reply with us. (You can read about it in this month’s edition).

The response she received to questions about the Loch Frisa and the 60 metre Indonesian Catamaran of 2020 was so packed with errors that we had to respond.

Whilst some points were differences of opinion or interpretation, others were simply untrue. We were astonished that an official ministerial response is so at odds with our knowledge of events.

Letters like this are typically composed by officials, and the Minister’s contribution to the composition may be minimal. The Minister is reliant on her civil servants (Transport Scotland) to brief and inform her – particularly on subjects (like the 60m catamaran) that occurred before she was in post. And those civil servants get their information from the public agencies who manage the system. In the case of the 60m catamaran, that means CMAL. Since this is a subject that we know pretty intimately and were closely involved with, we know just how wrong CMAL’s version of events is – and therefore, just how badly Transport Scotland and the Minister have been advised by them.

The Minister’s letter and our response to it is below. But we’ll highlight three key points from the letter regarding the 60m catamaran that are factually wrong:

  • It is stated in the Minister’s letter that “If the vessel had been unable to comply with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s requirements, we would have been in possession of a vessel which was unsuitable to be used in our waters…“. That is incorrect. The catamaran was offered for sale with the very generous condition that if the required modifications were not approved by the MCA, the sale would not have to proceed. There was therefore zero possibility that CMAL would end up with a ferry they could not use.
  • The letter also states that the price quoted for the 60m catamaran “….did not take account of the extensive alterations required to meet UK regulations.“. This too is incorrect. CMAL were given a cost estimate for not just the alterations that the MCA would require, but those that CalMac would ask for, principally the addition of live-aboard crew cabins and modified vehicle ramps. The 60m catamaran could have been purchased and then modified for a total cost approximately £0.5 million more than was paid for the Utne (now Loch Frisa).
  • It is claimed that CMAL’s consultant naval architects advised that “… it would not be practical, and may not be possible, to rebuild the vessel in order to make it compliant for operation in Scottish waters“. This too is not correct. CMAL’s consultants actually said of the most structurally intrusive and critical modifications that “Such modifications are deemed acceptable and possibly not too complicated to achieve…” , and they made no final recommendations on purchase. They instead listed unknown or unclear information, discrepancies in the information provided, and known minor issues that would need to be addressed. Neither the consultants nor CMAL made any attempt to obtain that clarification or information.

This letter just reinforces how CMAL handled the potential purchase of the 60m catamaran incompetently, and appear to have obstructed it deliberately. The problem is lack of communication – government seem to listen to the officials and agencies around them, but rarely to islanders and those who represent them. In this case, it results in decision-makers in Edinburgh having a completely different view of reality to those on the ground.

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