The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee has launched an inquiry into the ferry procurement and construction process following the collapse and subsequent nationalisation of Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL).

The Committee has issued a call for evidence as it seeks to find out what lessons can be learned for the procurement and construction of future new ferries, after delays in the delivery of two new vessels for the Clyde and Hebrides ferries network.

The inquiry will look to identify and address challenges and opportunities in the procurement of new vessels to support Scotland’s ferries network, including the impact of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on the future award of new ferry construction contracts.

Areas the inquiry is expected to focus on include:

  • the updated costs and timetable for the completion of two new hybrid ferries to serve the Clyde and Hebrides ferries network;
  • the Scottish Government’s decision to take public ownership of FMEL;
  • potential implications for future procurement of maritime vessels and for the ongoing development of the Scottish Government’s Ferries Plan and Vessel Replacement Programme.   

Committee Convener Edward Mountain MSP said: “Repeated delays to the planned schedule for delivery by Ferguson Marine of the two new hybrid ferries have been further complicated by the company’s entry into administration and the Scottish Government’s subsequent decision to assume public ownership of the Inverclyde shipyard.

“These developments clearly have important implications not only for the completion of the two vessels, but also for future plans for the replacement and refurbishment of vessels to meet the ongoing needs of the Clyde and Hebrides ferries network more generally.

“The Committee wants to find out not only what has gone wrong and how things will be put right, but how these problems can be avoided in the future.”

The committee invites all interested individuals and organisations to submit written evidence on its inquiry.

Responses to the call for evidence should be submitted by no later than 7 February 2020.

The call for evidence will be published on the committee's webpage.

Meanwhile, Rhoda Grant Highlands and Islands Labour MSP has lambasted the Scottish Government following its statement in Holyrood over the Ferguson Shipyard Ferry Fiasco on Wednesday 18 December. The Cabinet Secretary “has himself admitted that concerns were raised by CMAL staff as far back as November 2016 with regard to the construction of 801 and 802. The SNP were warned about this catastrophe over and over again and they still couldn’t fix it.

In his statement, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work Derek Mackay said: “Quality control through the build-out process was largely absent, and the vessels have not been maintained in the condition in which we would expect them to be maintained.”

Mrs Grant expressed her concerns that the state of existing hulls going forward:  “The SNP delayed telling us the full details of this disaster until after the election. I hope they are being fully transparent now and honest with themselves about whether these hulls are even salvageable.

Mrs Grant continued: “They spent £98.5 million on two vessels that never appeared, more money to buy the shipyard and are now forecasting another bill of £98.8 million and another 3 year wait for ferries that are desperately needed.”

Looking back, CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) placed orders for two new ferries with Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) in October 2015. The ferries are being delivered on a fixed-price basis under a design and build contract, with a combined fixed-price of £97m. The vessels are powered by hybrid marine gas oil/Liquid Natural Gas-powered engines, which are a world first for sea-going passenger and vehicle roll-on roll-off ferries.

The first ferry, MV Glen Sannox (vessel 801) was due to be delivered in summer 2018, with the second ferry (vessel 802) slightly later.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands wrote to the Committee on 9 November 2017, highlighting a delay in the delivery of the ferries with vessel 801 delayed until Winter 2018/19 and vessel 802 some time later. 

The Cabinet Secretary wrote again to the Committee on 16 August 2018 to advise that “…the first vessel, the MV Glen Sannox, will be delivered during Summer 2019 and the second vessel in Spring 2020”.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, wrote to the Committee on 25 April 2019 advising that he anticipated a further delay to the delivery of both vessels.

The directors of FMEL filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators on 8 August 2019, effectively starting the process which would place the business in administration.

On 2 December 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed that it had taken the Ferguson Marine shipyard into public ownership following the rejection by administrators of three commercial bids for the company.

On 18 December 2019, the Scottish Government published the Ferguson Marine Programme Review Board report, which indicated a delivery range for vessel 801 of October to December 2021 and a delivery range of July to October 2022 for vessel 802, with an estimated outstanding cost for delivery of the two ferries of £110.3m.