Loch Seaforth is a welcome sight arriving in the Firth of Clyde for the first time, CalMac’s newest and largest ship seen doing a pass of head office before mooring up at Greenock.
But her arrival was a precursor to more complaints regarding the delays being experienced in inaugurating the new service between Ullapool and Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis for which she was built.
Firstly, the £42mn ship herself was delayed at the builders with reportedly missed deadlines for her fitting out especially of her major electrical installations. There were even reports that the Flensburger yard (FSG) might have cash flow problems and the completion and delivery of the vessel might be halted altogether. The yard has in fact been taken over by a Norwegian consortium and the vessel was delivered albeit some months late. But that seems to be academic because the terminals to take her are not ready.
The funding and construction of the terminals seemingly has not been in-synch with the ferry which seems somewhat bizarre. For whatever reason, the Ullapool-Stornoway ro-ro link will cease for at least 6 weeks in early 2015 to enable the harbour works to be completed, while the cars and trucks the new ship is to facilitate must travel by the current ships, Isle of Lewis and Clipper Ranger, but from Uig on Skye. In what must be one of the strangest inaugural services of all is that Loch Seaforth, designed for up to 143 cars or commercial vehicle equivalents and 700 passengers, will be operating for passengers only from Ullapool for her initial period.
I can only wonder at the cost per foot passenger of running this big ship twice daily at the same time as the ro-ros are working out of Uig. It might have been cheaper to charter a plane. It makes the goal of reducing emissions look somewhat off target too. Politicians are vying to make capital out of this or minimise the blame on themselves but no-one involved seems to have covered themselves with glory.
I have never been a champion of the modern systems of publically funding ferries and the facilities they require. The procedures often seem to be too complex, designed to avoid making timely decisions but to pass the buck when things go wrong, ultimately making jobs for lawyers rather than shipbuilders and seafarers.
As for the shipyard, in November they were taken over by Norwegian Siem Industries who operate in the global offshore sector. FSG have delivered state of the art ferries notably to Canada (BC Ferries), Belgium (Cobelftret), the UK (Seatruck) and Turkey (UN Ro-Ro) but I wonder if this takeover means they will now target the offshore sector.
Anyway, they have a good order book and their ferries certainly seem to perform for their operators. I dare say Loch Seaforth will do so too in time. Meanwhile there is something heartwarming and colourful seeing a group of CalMac ships together, usually in the off season and undergoing maintenance as here in November at Greenock.