Could the catamaran project change the face of Clyde ferries?

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An ambitious plan to replace the CalMac vessel fleet has been drawn up by Clyde Catamaran Group.

The £800million program revealed by the group is for a fleet of 50 catamarans.

Led by Stuart Ballantyne, a Scottish naval architect and chairman of Australian maritime consultancy Sea Transport Solutions, whose designs are used in around 50 countries, the group told Scottish government ministers that new ferries built over 20 years would cost a fraction of those currently under construction.

The consortium, which also includes Peter Breslin, chief executive of Govan Drydock, has held talks with ministers over the ferry building program to replace the country’s ‘obsolete’ fleet and breathe new life into Scottish shipbuilding.

The proposed 50 ferries to be used by CalMac for services to vital islands off the west coast of Scotland, including Arran, and for services to Orkney and Shetland, would cost £250m more than t has cost so far to build just four in Turkey and Ferguson Marine in Scotland, according to an article in the Herald on Sunday.

The group says it also expects operating grant savings to exceed £1bn over the 20-year period of the building programme.

They say this means the entire Scottish ferry fleet of 50 vessels could “largely” be funded by savings from operating grants, “without significant changes in user fares or that the Scottish Government have to find significant additional funds”.

“We believe this is a win-win project for the industrial regeneration of the Clyde,” said a spokesman for the group.

At the current rate of ferry delivery, 50 ferries would take 140 years to complete.

The group, which also includes Professor Alf Baird, former director of Napier University’s Marine Research Group, said its project would involve ten additional vessels for the export market for £200million over 20 years.

It is envisaged that the catamaran project will be based at Ferguson Marine’s nationalized Inchgreen Graving Dock in Inverclyde and Govan Graving Dock.

Govan Graving Dock dates back to the 19th century and has been out of service for over 40 years, but it is hoped that it can be brought back into service. Govan Drydock said he wanted to make the A-rated drydock a fully operational ship repair and maintenance base by the end of this year.

By 2022, 17 of public ferry operator CalMac’s 31 ferries in service deployed across Scotland had exceeded their life expectancy of 25 years. The oldest of the CalMac fleet is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 46 years old.

The group, which presented its case for changing the current process for buying CMAL ferries to Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, said it was “not possible nor acceptable ‘to delay replacement’ because many ships are already too old and need scrapping, and the cost of repairing and maintaining ships is increasing dramatically”.

“There is currently no coherent plan in place to meet a schedule, with CMAL continuing its failed sourcing strategy based on internally specified monohulls, which precludes evaluation of the most optimal catamaran option. This failure needs to be corrected urgently.

“The demand for significantly increased service capacity exists and must be met, as does the urgent need to replace the fleet in a more cost-effective and affordable way.”

The group says the plan would require a skilled workforce of around 1,200 people and hundreds more in the supply chain.

“This will not only invigorate the shipbuilding industry but especially the Inverclyde and Govan areas which have many social issues and deprivation,” the group said.

However, in a first blow to the plans, it was reported that Atlas Decommissioning had won a contract to dismantle the cruise ship Astoria at Inchgreen and the ship would arrive before the end of the month.

Stuart Ballantyne’s 70m catamaran which operates in Orkney, Trinidad and the Netherlands. NO_B42catamaran

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