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The newest ferry in the small fleet of Pentland Ferries is to head south, chartered to CalMac from 18 April by the Scottish Government, it was announced yesterday (Monday 20 March).

The MV Alfred will provide cover to CalMac’s Clyde and Hebrides routes, providing what chief executive Robbie Drummond called ‘much-needed resilience’ for nine months.

She’ll be crewed by Pentland Ferries staff and is expected to be used flexibly, to cover routes where other ferries are unavailable.

Pentland Ferries has struck a deal with the Scottish Government to charter the Alfred, with Transport Scotland investing £9 million in the deal to cover berthing dues, fuel, commercial charter rate and other costs.

Pentland Ferries’ older sister vessel, MV Pentalina, is to return to her home run across the Pentland Firth, taking over their daily service to Orkney.

She’s currently in Belfast, where she has been in dock for a month and is now awaiting spare parts, before returning to Greenock where works will be completed.

The MV Alfred is a catamaran-style vessel capable of carrying 98 cars, or 54 cars with 12 articulated lorries, and a total of 430 passengers.

The vessel has spacious seating areas, a café, outdoor seating, and an indoor dog-friendly sun deck lounge. There is lift access from the car deck to the lounges.

Her vehicle ramp is offset to the port side, meaning that she can only approach certain quays safely.

Pentland Ferries managing director, Helen Inkster, said the Alfred would be based in Campbeltown, once berthing trials are complete.

She also outlined the advantages to her company from the deal, saying: “We remain entirely committed to serving the community of Orkney, and operating the MV Pentalina on the route, in the short term, is a prudent move allowing us to protect, develop and invest in the future of the Orkney service.

“We look forward to working with CalMac on the next stage of the charter and see both vessels in operation providing reliable, dynamic and efficient services to island communities on the North and West of Scotland.”

There has been pressure from island communities for CalMac to charter Alfred’s older sister ship, Pentalina, in the past.

CalMac pursued berthing trials for the Pentalina in 2021, only for Pentland Ferries to withdraw their agreement at the last minute.

Mull and Iona Ferry Committee (MIFC) said today (Tuesday 21 March): “The arrival of the Alfred is very welcome news for a ferry service in crisis.

“Three major vessels remain out of action (Clansman, Caledonian Isles and Hebridean Isles) and the winter overhaul schedule has disintegrated.

“It’s a sign of desperation that such a large sum (£1m per month) is being spent on a temporary relief vessel.”

The MV Alfred was built in Vietnam and entered service on 1 November 2019.  Construction started one year after Fergusons shipyard cut the first steel for the MV Glen Sannox, which has not yet entered service.

The Alfred is described as the cleanest and greenest ferry of its kind, with 60% less fuel consumption and CO2 emissions than similar ferries serving the Scottish islands.

Transport Scotland said yesterday: “CalMac will engage with communities and confirm the details of her deployment in due course.”

Minister for transport Jenny Gilruth said: “I’m pleased to announce an agreement has been reached with Pentland Ferries to charter the MV Alfred, bringing improved resilience to the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network.

“This is a key step in our longer-term commitment to retain a fully-crewed vessel in the fleet for this purpose, as set out in the draft islands connectivity plan. 

“The Scottish Government is committed to improving the lifeline ferry fleet and better meeting the needs of island communities.”

The pictures show MV Alfred in action in Orkney (Pentland Ferries) and the Pentalina during berthing trials at Craignure in 2021 (MIFC).