Polish shipyard which successfully built three CalMac ferries overlooked in favour of failed Ferguson Marine contract

SNP ministers overlooked a Polish shipyard with a track record of delivering ferries for island communities in favour of newly rescued Ferguson Marine, raising fresh questions over the scandal.

CMAL was asked to sign a contract with Ferguson Marine for two new ferries in 2015, a newly unredacted submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee states despite having the option to reopen negotiations with Remontowa.

Critics said the decision not to reopen negotiations with the Polish shipyard raises questions about whether “political interests were put ahead of those communities who just wanted ferries that were fit for purpose”.

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Hulls 801 and 802 are more than five years late and more than £150m over-budget after the Invercldye yard was granted a contract which did not include a full builder’s refund guarantee.

The MV Bute cost £8.5m to construct and entered service in 2005.
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Such a guarantee would have protected the Scottish Government from delays and overspend.

The lack of this financial guarantee was viewed by Erik Ostegaard, the then-chair of CMAL, as being “totally off the track of what is normal”, stating on September 26, 2015 that CMAL would have to reject the conditions offered by FMEL.

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This, he said, would imply either shelving the project “until further”, or “reopening the contract negotiations with Remontowa (with whom we have a track record of doing business) or even a second yard in parallel while continuing contract negotiations with FMEL.”

Only after CMAL received a letter of comfort from the Scottish Government around the financial risks of the contract was it signed.

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The MV Bute (pictured) is one of three ferries Remontowa successfully constructed for CalMac.

Remontowa successfully constructed the MV Bute and the MV Argyle which operate the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute route and the MV Finlaggan, which operates the Kennacraig to Islay route for CalMac.

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The Scottish Government paid £8.5m, £9m, and £25m respectively for the ferries which entered service in 2005, 2007, and 2011 respectively.

By comparison, Ferguson Marine had been rescued by Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers Capital in 2014, a deal trumpeted by Alex Salmond in the run up to the independence referendum.

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It collapsed into administration again in 2019 and was nationalised by the Scottish Government.

The submission also shows the SNP’s Keith Brown label a 56 day delay to the delivery of an island ferry 'unacceptable' a year before the FMEL debacle began.

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In a June 2014 letter to Flensberger Shiffbau-Gesellschaf, which was another unsuccessful bidder for hulls 801 and 802, the then-transport minister, criticised the delay to the MV Loch Seaforth.

This ship, which operates between Stornoway and Ullapool, was ordered in June 2012 and entered service less than three years later in February 2015 and cost £42m.

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Complaining about the delivery date for the vessel having “slipped significantly”, Mr Brown writes that an eight week delay was “unacceptable”, despite part of the delay attributed to the shipyard’s shed being damaged in a storm.

He wrote: “Even allowing for a force majeure event, I find this delay both unacceptable and of real concern to those who rely on these ferry services to access Scotland’s remote and island communities.”

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"Firstly, I am personally seeking a comprehensive explanation for these unacceptable delays.

"Secondly, an assurance that you are taking every possible step to manage this issue and, thirdly, to seek an assurance that there will be no further delays to the construction programme.”

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The minister continued by stating the Scottish Government has a “growing reputation for prompt delivery of major transport projects” and the construction delays around the Loch Seaforth were in “stark contrast” to other projects.

Graham Simpson, the Scottish Conservative transport spokesperson, said the ferries fiasco has left island communities “in a desperate state”.

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He said: “Now we learn that it was entirely possible for ministers to be negotiating with other companies, but they were hellbent giving the green light to their preferred bidder.

“Serious questions must be answered if the political interests were put ahead of those communities who just wanted ferries that were fit for purpose and delivered on time.

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“Islanders will be forgiven if they don’t find the ironic funny side of Keith Brown complaining about an eight week delay.

"He’s remained entirely silent over his government failing to build ferries that float all the while blowing £250 million of taxpayers money and leaving them years behind schedule.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Ferguson’s priority is to complete the two ferries that are currently under construction and continue the work to ensure that it is in shape to compete successfully for contracts, both domestically and further afield, in future.

“Ministers stand by their commitment to the shipbuilding communities in Inverclyde and the island communities that rely on these vessels. Both dual fuel vessels are scheduled for delivery next year.”

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