Ferguson Marine ferry fiasco: Glen Sannox will miss start of summer season after modifications ordered

Sea trials postponed until 2024 after changes to doorways required

The hugely-delayed ferry Glen Sannox may not be in passenger service with CalMac until early summer after the Ferguson Marine shipyard announced further construction delays.

The Port Glasgow yard told MSPs in its latest progress update the vessel’s sea trials have had to be postponed to January-March because of internal modifications to doorways required by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

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It said the trials would not be completed until at least March. The ship, which will be CalMac’s second largest, will then need two months of further trials by the ferry operator before it can go into service, with the company’s summer season starting in April.

The ferry was due to have been finished by December – five years late and more than three times over budget – for the main Arran route to Brodick, one of CalMac’s busiest. The combined cost of the vessel and sister ship 802 is more than three times the original £97 million contract, totalling more than £300m.

The Scottish Government’s ferry buying firm Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (Cmal) has already told The Scotsman completion was likely to be delayed until around February.

The Scotsman now understands CalMac does not expect Glen Sannox to be ready to carry passengers until around May. The Scottish Government-owned operator has already expressed concerns the start of service could be delayed because warranties for equipment on board have expired.

The ship will operate the Arran route from Troon rather than Ardrossan, which the existing ferries use, until at least 2026. This is because Glen Sannox is too large for Ardrossan harbour, which also desperately needs upgrading as CalMac said its poor state had been a significant factor affecting the reliability of sailings to the island.

Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman had said in June the ferry "should be available to passengers in spring 2024" if there were no further problems.

The yard said the modifications were required because of a reassessment of how the MCA applied its rules to such ships, not just the two ferries.

Ferguson Marine also said that as a knock-on impact, sister vessel 802’s launch – when the vessel enters the water as part of the construction process – would be postponed from November to February or March next year. The ship is due to be completed by the end of 2024 after ministers decide to press on with construction even though a review concluded it would be better value for money to start building a new vessel from scratch.

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That was rejected because of the further delay it would cause to getting a ferry in service, with 802 due to join Glen Sannox on the main Arran route.

Mr Tydeman said in his update: “The MCA have reassessed the application of 'cargo ship' rules to the crew spaces of passenger ferries (on a broader basis than just Ferguson and Glen Sannox/802) and for the last two months we have been working to close the impacts of this and some other approvals issues.

"We have been designing and planning the necessary modifications to some doorways in crew corridors and three additional staircases between decks five, six and seven. We have one issue to finalise and hope to reach final agreement with the MCA within the next two weeks so that we can carry out all the modifications before Glen Sannox moves to the dry dock just before Christmas.

“However, this will mean that sea trials will move into the first quarter of the new year and the commissioning of the LNG [liquefied natural gas] systems at Troon (which must be done after dry docking) will also move to after Christmas.

"We now meet weekly with key individuals from Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, Cmal and CalMac to jointly monitor the commissioning, trials and handover programme, and how this best works with the subsequent mobilisation of crew and the start of CalMac's passenger operations.

"We will need to maintain some flexibility for Glen Sannox to operate from the quayside at the shipyard during January and February and, with this in mind, we will defer the launch of 802 to the next high tide window towards the end of February, perhaps early March.

“From March, we plan for 802 to use the Ferguson Marine quayside and Glen Sannox to complete trials and handover further down the river.”

Mr Tydeman said he would provide a “further update on costs and delivery dates for both vessels” at the end of September.

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He said a temporary walkout by electrical contractors following an incident at the yard would not add further delays. Mr Tydeman added: ”Following a constructive and positive meeting with the Health and Safety Executive last week, it confirmed the appropriateness of our engineering and administration controls, particularly for electrical safety.

"Whilst the publicised stand down by our electrical contractor has lost some time over the past weeks, this can be managed within the timelines for completing the commissioning and MCA related-issues as above.”

Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: “The SNP’s ferries fiasco has strayed so far beyond farcical, the scale of the incompetence is almost absurd.

“But it’s not remotely amusing for Scotland’s betrayed island communities, who will be furious at this latest delay in the completion of two vessels that are already six years late and hundreds of millions of pounds over budget.

“It’s ridiculous that at this late stage extra staircases are having to be installed, and doors widened, to satisfy safety regulations. These design requirements should have been ironed out years ago.

“There are serious questions to be asked over this latest shambles, but, ultimately, the buck stops with SNP ministers who nationalised Ferguson Marine, having made the catastrophic decision to avoid them the contract in the first place.”

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