Of­fi­cials’ se­cret talks on mov­ing trou­bled fer­ries

I think it would be ab­so­lute lu­nacy to move the ships at this stage Re­lo­ca­tion dis­cussed af­ter cash de­mands and de­lays

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - NEWS - By Ju­dith Duffy

Govern­ment

of­fi­cials held dis­cus­sions over mov­ing Scot­land’s two new CalMac fer­ries to a new ship­yard to be com­pleted.

The Sun­day Post can re­veal talks were held be­tween Trans­port Scot­land and Cale­do­nian Mar­itime As­sets Ltd (CMAL) on the time and cost im­pli­ca­tions of such a move as part of “risk mit­i­ga­tion”.

The Fer­gu­son Marine ship­yard in Port Glas­gow, the last com­mer­cial ship­yard on the Clyde, won the £97 mil­lion con­tract to build the fer­ries in 2015.

The fer­ries will be the first in the world to run on a dual-fuel sys­tem us­ing both diesel and liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas.

But a dis­pute has bro­ken out, with the yard’s owner bil­lion­aire Jim McColl threat­en­ing to take CMAL to court to pay for ad­di­tional work which he said was caused by de­sign changes made to the fer­ries.

CMAL, which is owned by the Scot­tish Govern­ment and is re­spon­si­ble for buy­ing and leas­ing fer­ries for op­er­a­tors Calmac, has in­sisted the work is cov­ered by the orig­i­nal con­tract.

In a writ­ten re­sponse to a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion from Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive MSP Jamie Greene, fi­nance min­is­ter Derek Mackay said: “As part of its ap­proach to risk man­age­ment mit­i­ga­tion, Trans­port Scot­land had dis­cus­sions with Cale­do­nian Mar­itime As­sets Ltd on the po­ten­tial time and cost im­pli­ca­tions of mov­ing the two new fer­ries to an al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tion for com­ple­tion.”

Gary Cook, of union GMB Scot­land, said: “It would be ab­so­lute lu­nacy to move the ships at this stage.

“The pro­gramme is go­ing well in terms of the catch-up process for the de­sign process, so the ex­per­tise is in Fer­gu­sons.

“I am very con­fi­dent the ex­per­tise is there and they will be com­pleted there.”

McColl, who is an ad­viser to Nicola Stur­geon, helped res­cue the Fer­gu­son Marine ship­yard. The con­tract to build the new fer­ries awarded by the Scot­tish Govern­ment gave the com­pany vi­tal work.

A po­lit­i­cal row was trig­gered when it emerged Fer­gu­son Marine had been given a £45 mil­lion loan fa­cil­ity by the Scot­tish Govern­ment, lead­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions of “crony cap­i­tal­ism”.

Any move for the work to be com­pleted at an­other ship­yard would be seized on by the SNP’s op­po­nents, who have also crit­i­cised de­lays to the de­liv­ery of the two ships.

In Septem­ber, McColl threat­ened le­gal ac­tion against CMAL, say­ing he re­quired the loan only be­cause CMAL had re­fused to pay for the ad­di­tional work caused by de­sign changes to the fer­ries.

He said: “If CMAL con­tinue to fail to en­gage with us we will take them to court.

“We are very con­fi­dent we have car­ried out ad­di­tional work which CMAL, ie the Scot­tish govern­ment, has to pay for.

“Once we are paid we will pay back the loan to the Scot­tish Govern­ment.”

Jamie Greene, Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive trans­port spokesman, said: “The na­tion­al­ists can’t point the fin­ger at any­one else for this.

“It’s time for them to take re­spon­si­bil­ity and en­sure Scot­land’s ferry fleet – so vi­tal to var­i­ous economies across the coun­try – is fight­ing fit for the present and fu­ture.”

A CMAL spokes­woman said Fer­gu­son Marine En­gi­neer­ing had en­tered into the con­tract with “full and prior knowl­edge of the spec­i­fi­ca­tion and terms of the con­tract.”

She added: “CMAL fun­da­men­tally dis­agrees with any as­ser­tion that there have been sig­nif­i­cant changes.”

Trans­port Scot­land re­fused to dis­close when dis­cus­sions took place.

A spokesman said: “There are no plans to move the two fer­ries, cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion at Fer­gu­son Marine En­gi­neer­ing Ltd, to an al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tion.”

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