Will Glen Sannox ferry saga prove to be just an aberration for Ferguson Marine and CalMac? – Alastair Dalton
All being well after five years of delays and setbacks, the Glen Sannox ferry will finally join CalMac’s fleet and become just another of the west coast operator’s black and red liveried ferries, its infamous past fading from popular memory. Everything appeared to be going in the right direction when I visited the ship last week and it was perhaps more complete inside than I’d been expecting. It confirmed to me the absurdity of the claim, perpetuated by some media as recently as December, that it would never sail.
The Glen Sannox and its unnamed sister hull 802 may be the largest and most complex vessels Ferguson Marine has built, but being shown round the Port Glasgow yard further convinced me this episode will be looked back on as an aberration in both the building of CalMac ferries and the history of the 120-year-old shipbuilding business. Ferguson Marine has successfully completed many ferries for the operator in the past, both large and small, and under its current owners, the Scottish Government, has won a contract to build part of the Royal Navy’s next generation of warships. The Ministry of Defence wouldn’t have countenanced that if it had had any doubts about Ferguson.
But what I gathered from my visit is that under its previous owner, Jim McColl’s Clyde Blowers Capital, which won the Glen Sannox and 802 contract, it wasn’t just a case of how not to build a ferry but also how not to run a shipyard. David Tydeman, chief executive of the current business, Ferguson Marine Port Glasgow, repeatedly pointed out changes made by McColl’s team which hampered the yard from running efficiently, including removing key equipment, installing major apparatus like cranes incorrectly, and constructing buildings which impeded the smooth flow of work.
He said few “surprises” were still being uncovered in the botched building of Glen Sannox, and his confidence that there wouldn’t be further delays was growing. But there are a fair few steps still to be completed before the ferry enters passenger service, including trials by CalMac after handover, and there’s no guarantee more unexpected glitches won’t arise. But it appears that 802 is a surer bet, as far less of it had been built by the time McColl’s company exited when the yard went into administration and was nationalised in 2019.
For the moment, CalMac is in a precarious position. Its large, ageing fleet is being worked harder than ever while at increasing risk of breakdown. Neither the Ferguson Marine ferries nor four more being built in Turkey will be ready for the busy summer season – the Glen Sannox at the end of this year and the first of the latter quartet in October next year.
The nine-month charter of the catamaran Alfred from Pentland Ferries, which entered service on the main Arran route on Friday, has given CalMac a relief ferry for the first time in years. But it’s likely to have its work cut out covering for other CalMac vessels being repaired, and has yet to prove its reliability with a series of faults and shortcomings delaying its deployment and limiting its ability to use some ports.
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