TMore and more, I am reading reports that say the media, and the public too, are well aware of the parlous state of the ferries of Calmac on which so many of the population of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands depend for their present existence and their future life and livelihood.
Indeed, how can you plan for the future of your business in an isolated Western Isle community if, hand on heart, you know it depends entirely on a worn out ferry that may breakdown at any time and you also know there may no longer be the skills or resources in the area, or even the country, to remedy mechanical and operational problems in the necessary timescale.
I think it was a good and rather brave decision to order two new major Calmac ferries to be built within Scotland, but it seemed to me at the time a questionable timescale for the delivery of the vessels and indeed was there the skill and expertise to perform to the timescale and qualitative standard the contract required? Presumably, there will be serious repercussions, legal and financial, between Calmac and Fergusons the builders as the delayed new ferries progress towards completion which may mean public moneys and professional time and resources being squandered on recrimination, legal fees and bureaucracy which would have been better spent on placing Scotland’s ferry building and maintenance strategy on a secure foundation for the long term which is surely required and is long overdue.
It is a fact there is not a single yard left in the UK that built the larger and now ageing Calmac vessels – Caledonian Isles by Richards at Lowestoft, Clansman at Appledore. You can’t even see where some of these yards once were. I believe the state of the nations marine engineering sector is a disgraceful dereliction of duty on behalf of the politicians and captains of industry in the UK over several decades, and this article is written as the dust settles around what used to be the proud Appledore yard.
But there are some hopeful signs and, no doubt, there is potential for a brighter future if opportunities are grasped and good sense and imagination applied. The small hybrid ferries from Fergusons, one of them shown here – Catriona, seem to be working well and there is a pressing and unavoidable need for several more ferries for Scottish routes, ships both large and small.
Even the Northlink trio will need replacing in the foreseeable future as will certainly the former Estonian owned Spanish built freighters that are the Northern Isles lifelines and are occasional Western Isles freighters too. If I had a few £million, and if I had rather more brain cells left and a better head for business I would invest in - preferably - a new shipyard site, or I would revitalise and completely modernise an existing yard, initially to build the next generation of ferries for Scottish routes and I am sure orders for elsewhere would follow – Isle of Man Steam Packet?
Charlie McCurdy, on a recent trip to Kintyre and Carridale, was able to sample a range of Calmac vessels. Some, like Isle of Arran, old and very familiar, and other smaller units like the hybrid Catriona more recent.