STEEL has been cut for a new ferry to be built at Ferguson shipyard, the first major project since it was saved from closure earlier this year.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon started the job by launching the steel-cutting machine in the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde.
Jim McColl, who stepped in to save the yard, was also at the start of work on the hybrid passenger ferry and thanked staff for their work and patience since his takeover three months ago.
Ferguson has completed some fabrication work recently but the construction of the ferry for Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited is the first major project for the staff since new owners stepped in.
The business, which dates back to 1902, went into administration in August after experiencing ‘’significant cashflow pressure’’.
Mr McColl hopes more contracts will be won by the shipyard early next year.
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He said: “It’s a very significant day: if you go back four or five months it looked like there wouldn’t be another ship built in this yard.
“At the moment we’re bidding to win the contract for two more ferries, both are 100 metres long so they are big ones and we’ll find out about the award of those in March.
“If we win them that’s going to need about 400 employees in this yard to do that up from 70 just now, so there’s a bright future over the next 12 months and a solid base to build more ships.
“I believe we can build ships as well and as competitively as anywhere else in the world, so it was important to save this yard.
“It would’ve been criminal if it was allowed to die.”
Before pressing the button to start the laser guided steel cutting, Ms Sturgeon met workers and was presented with a bouquet of flowers.
She seemed a popular figure with the shipbuilders as she was invited to Christmas dinner by one and given kisses by others.
She said: “There’s nothing like a bit of shipyard banter to get a Friday morning off to a good start.
“I’ve already been invited to Christmas dinner but if anyone wants to bid that up a bit I’m open to offers before I leave.
“Today is a really important milestone for this yard because just a few months ago it was faced with the prospect of closure, now thanks to the intervention of Jim McColl it’s under ownership and has every reason to feel optimistic about the future.
“This new ferry allows the yard to showcase its skills and it’s an important step towards long-term sustainability.
“This is one of three hybrid ferries, the first two were also launched here, so it’s a design they have a lot of expertise in.
“The road ahead for the shipyard is not going to be easy, they’ll have to be competitive and work to win contracts to fill their order book, but what we have here is a workforce that’s determined and management that is determined to invest in the yard to give it a successful future, and that’s fantastic.”
The ferry will be powered by diesel and electricity. It will be able to carry 150 passengers.
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