The deal with Bergen-based ferry and express boat operator Norled to purchase a second-hand ferry for deployment on the Clyde and Hebrides network is set to come into government hands at the end of this month, with modifications expected early next year.
The total cost of the 50-metre vessel, including purchase and modifications, is less than a tenth of the cost of two new ferries currently under construction in Scotland.
The MV Utne has been earmarked for the Oban-Craignure route, and communities in Skye and the Western Isles will also benefit as a result of the cascade of vessels elsewhere on the network.
Last month, the government, which owns Ferguson’s Marine shipyard after rescuing it in 2019 to avoid its collapse, invited tenders for two new ferries to serve Islay and Jura by two shipyards in Turkey, one in Romania and one in Poland.
The two other west coast ferries are also set to be finished next year, after years of delays and costing more than double the original price tag.
The extra cost of the two ships has now ballooned to more than £110m – more than double the initial price of £97m. It is now estimated that one will be finished between July and September next year, with the other completed between April and July 2023.
Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL, said: “The search for a suitable second-hand vessel has been long and challenging, and we’ve experienced a few false starts. But we are glad to bring this much-needed second hand tonnage to the fleet to provide the operator, CalMac, with some resilience.
“MV Utne has been operating successfully, with a fully complaint passenger certificate from the Norwegian Maritime Board. The vessel has operated for five years in Norwegian waters and that offers us confidence in its compliance, safety and operability.”
Transport minister Graeme Dey, who three weeks ago hinted that a second-hand ferry from overseas was being considered in a move he said would have a “positive cascade effect across the network”, said: “I’m very pleased to announce that MV Utne has been purchased by CMAL to join the ferry fleet serving the Clyde and Hebrides network.
"We have always said we would look to the second-hand market for additional vessels to support our island communities and this purchase is the result of this ongoing work.
“The Scottish Government has committed £580m to fund new ferries and port investments over the next five years. We continue to work with CMAL and CalMac to develop potential programmes that will deliver additional improvements to the network.”
News of the new ferry, which is earmarked for deployment next summer, follows a series of breakdowns and fault among the ageing CalMac fleet which have disrupted sailings across its west coast network for several years.
Councillor Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said of the purchase: “This is welcome news. Sustainable transport links to and from our islands are key to supporting community life.”