There were two bids for the eight year £1bn contract to run the Scottish Government’s required services in the Firth of Clyde and Hebrides.
The bids were from Caledonian MacBrayne and Serco Caledonian Ferries Ltd. It was announced, as we were going to press, that Calmac had won the contract, indeed two contracts, as there is a ferry operating and a harbour management element.
It is easy to be cynical about the tendering process where everything is promised, but there are good policies itemised which can be monitored over the eight years to ensure promises are delivered with less chance of operators slipping into complacency. CalMac state they will; “maintain a high level of engagement with customers and communities to deliver consistent service excellence”. We will see about the latter, as any operator is partly in thrall to weather and chance factors out of their control, but I especially like their promise to; “provide more opportunities for local employment including apprenticeships…working with local agencies to recruit the long term unemployed, young and mature workers.” They will also work with local maritime training organisations including University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and City of Glasgow College “to develop a strong maritime training economy in Scotland”.
I witnessed young officers in training in Shetland at the UHI campus and I feel that is hugely important for the future of ferries and Scottish shipping in general. Makes one wonder why this has not been stressed much more in the past. CalMac will also invest to train and develop harbour operating staff and deliver nationally recognised qualifi cations for Port Assistants and Harbour Managers.
It is heartening too that more apprentices are being taken on at Fergusons Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) at Port Glasgow where the next two large CalMac ships are being built and where the third small hybrid ferry, Catriona, was launched into the Firth in December. Like Hallaig and Lochinvar before her, she incorporates a hybrid system of diesel engine and electric lithiumion battery power and is 43.5m long with a capacity of 150 passengers with 23 cars or two HGVs. In accord with fashionable legal and accounting processes, she is owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) and will be run by CalMac Ferries.
The £12.3 million Catriona, her route yet to be announced, is the third commercial ship to be built and delivered on the Clyde in five years and effectively the first launched by FMEL since their purchase of Ferguson shipbuilders. Experience so far of the hybrid ferries, Hallaig on the Sconser (Skye) to Raasay route and Lochinvar, Tarbert to Portavadie, is a reduction in fossil fuel consumption of up to 38% relative to a comparable vessel and a decrease in CO2 emissions in excess of 5,500 tonnes per ship over their lifetime with proportional decreases in sulphur and NO2 emissions.
CalMac have some customer relations to rebuild on their Mallaig-Armadale route where Coruisk is much missed, now moved to Oban-Craignure.
An interesting if rather mismatched trio of Lochnnevis, Lochinvar and Lord of the Isles (affectionately known as “Loti” by regular users) more than make up for her capacity, but there are apparently docking issues on spring tides. CalMac states: “We would wish to emphasise…regardless of the tidal issues, carryings on this route are the busiest they have ever been”. They say;“Extreme spring tides have impacted on the Mallaig Armadale service…This will be an intermittent issue which we believe is manageable, but even with these cancellations there were still more sailings, with more capacity on this route than at the same time last year”.
They report in the first two weeks of the season to have seen a 42% increase in passengers on Mallaig-Armadale and a 53% increase in vehicles compared to the same period in 2015. It will not be easy to keep everyone happy all of the time. That will have to be worked on over the next eight years.
But I have a feeling that with new ships, a sincere operating philosophy and in-depth apprentice and employment policies, CalMac ferry services will be in a better position during and after the next eight years than they have been for a long time.