The latest Calmac ferry, Loch Seaforth, as I write, has left her Flensburg builders and is in dry-dock at Odense, Denmark, for adjustments to her propellers and final fitting out before delivery trials.
She is due to take up her Ullapool-Stornoway roster late September or early October and is a business-like good looking ship which is scheduled for a hard-worked life taking both the day and night passenger and freight runs across the Minch.
She will be the sole Calmac vessel replacing two, currently the Isle of Lewis and the chartered Clipper Ranger of Seatruck. Loch Seaforth will be a most welcome addition to the Calmac fleet but comes at a poignant time when the news is that Fergusons Shipbuilders at Port Glasgow has ceased trading.
Due to the strange if not bizarre way of funding and operating ferries these days, the fleet operated by Calmac is owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, CMAL. Their website says that they own 32 ferries and ironically make a point of stating that their current largest ship is the aforesaid Isle of Lewis whilst their newest is Lochinvar both of which were delivered from Fergusons, the latter being the last ship delivered by the Port Glasgow yard.
Lochinvar is the second after Hallaig of innovative hybrid diesel-electric vehicle and passenger ferries for short hop, sheltered routes, Hallaig on the Sconser to Raasay link while Lochinvar operates Tarbert to Portavadie. They have a capacity of 150 passengers and 23 cars or two HGVs at up to nine knots service speed. Their battery banks should supply a minimum of 20% of the ship’s energy needs.
CMAL states that in due course they intend that none of their ferries will be over 30 years old, which does not seem overly ambitious but needs the politicians to open the public purse for the lifeline routes, most likely with EU assistance.
It is very possible that in future no ferries will be built in Scotland, not without a radical rethink of public financial, industrial and sourcing policy. Fergusons has been prolific in building small to medium size ferries for UK and world-wide operation. Maybe the site and workforce can be saved for a revitalised future. Offers for the plant have been received but it remains to be seen whether they will come to fruition.