Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) is tasked with procuring ships for Scotland’s ferry fleet on behalf of the Scottish Government.
The body announced on Tuesday that tenders had been invited by two shipyards in Turkey, one in Romania and one in Poland.
The Scottish Government took Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow into public ownership in 2019 to avoid its collapse, but uncovered a number of failures in the construction of two ferries.
A total of 35 yards expressed interest and the final contract will be awarded before March next year.
But the decision to look outwith Scotland has proven controversial, with Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby saying: “This news will come as a hammer-blow to Scotland’s shipbuilders and demonstrates the SNP’s complete lack of an industrial strategy.
“This announcement means more jobs and more money going overseas at a time of economic crisis.
“The modernisation of the ferry network can help secure the future of Ferguson’s and drive the economic renewal of the Lower Clyde.
“For the Scottish Government to keep missing these opportunities or making a complete mess of them is a damning indictment of the SNP.”
He added: “Catastrophic failures in the Scottish Government’s procurement of two new ferries are at the heart of the Ferguson’s ferry debacle.
“Ministers should take personal responsibility for turning things around and filling Ferguson’s order books with work that can transform the ferry network and support good, skilled, local jobs.
“Scotland’s shipbuilders are being left on the shelf while more public money goes into the coffers of foreign businesses.
“This is simply not good enough. The people of Scotland deserve better.”
Alba MP Kenny MacAskill – whose party members voted at their first conference last weekend to support the direct awarding of any future ferries to Ferguson Marine – said the decision was a “kick in the teeth” to workers at the Port Glasgow yard.
Scottish Conservatives Shadow Transport Minister Graham Simpson MSP added: “It’s humiliating for the SNP that ships which could be built in the West Coast of Scotland are instead going to be welded together in Eastern Europe.
“The SNP let down our shipyards so badly that they are missing out on work to Romania, Poland and Turkey.
“Ferguson shipyard was nationalised to much fanfare by the SNP but their catastrophic failures have left the yard unable to compete for work on their own doorstep."CMAL director Jim Anderson said: “We received interest from many shipyards across the world, and carried out robust assessment of their technical and financial suitability to take on this project.
“Four shipyards scored the highest across both criteria and have now been issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for the contract.
“This stage of the procurement process will take around six months, and we hope to award the contract to the winning shipyard at the end of March 2022.
“The ITT stage marks an important step forward in bringing a new vessel to Islay and Jura.
“It is one of several new vessel and harbour upgrade projects we are currently progressing to improve the resilience of ferry services for island communities.”