Work to build a new Harris ferry officially begins today. 

Transport Minister Derek Mackay cut the first pieces of steel at the Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) shipyard in Port Glasgow, heralding the creation of two new CalMac ferries, at a combined cost of £97 million. 

While one vessel is proposed to serve the Tarbert-Uig-Lochmaddy triangle, the other is due to sail between Ardrossan and Arran.

The two new 'dual fuel' ships will both be approximately 330ft long and capable of 16 knots with space for 127 cars or 16 HGV’s or a combination of both and up to 1000 passengers.

The ferries are designed to operate on either marine diesel or liquefied natural gas (LNG), where benefits will be gained by a marked reduction in CO2 and sulphur and nitreous oxides emissions. 

It's expected that both ships will come into operation in 2018.

Mr Mackay said: “I’m delighted to help cut the first steel for these new ferries, marking the start of construction on this massive project that has brought large shipbuilding back to the Clyde.

“The Scottish Government is committed to creating the vital jobs needed to boost local economies and help stimulate growth across Scotland. This £97 million contract means FMEL can retain its 150-strong workforce, as well as take on more staff and apprentices.

“The ferries themselves will be welcome additions to the Clyde and Hebrides network, helping the Scottish Government to continue to provide safe and reliable services for the communities that depend on them.

“The vessels will also be ‘dual-fuel ferries’, allowing them to use cleaner fuel and future-proofing them for the advent of tighter regulations around sulphur emissions.

“I look forward to seeing these new ferries join the West Coast ferry fleet in the future.”

FMEL Managing Director, Liam Campbell said: “Cutting first steel on these two vessels from CMAL signifies an important milestone for the yard and will allow the workforce to steadily grow over the next years. Our new facility will provide highly efficient state-of-the-art shipbuilding and fabrication services to customers in all sectors.

“We look forward to working closely with CMAL and CalMac on this project to ensure world class vessels for a world class owner and operator”.

Erik Østergaard, Chair of CMAL said: “Today’s steel cutting ceremony marks the first important milestone in the construction of these innovative dual-fuel ferries, as work gets underway to build the first vessel.

“Hulls 801 and 802 will become the latest vessels in our fleet and strengthen our commitment to using cutting edge technology and design to create sustainable and reliable ferries and we look forward to the first of these vessels going into service in 2018.

"This construction project is the latest step in our ambitious fleet renewal plans to ensure our ferries continue to meet the needs of the communities we serve."