By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Conservatives have accused the SNP of “farcical incompetence” on the fifth anniversary of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘launch’ of the MV Glen Sannox.

The vessel, which is under construction at the Ferguson Marine shipyard, was launched by the First Minister exactly five years ago today (Monday) at a cost of almost £50,000 in PR and event expenses. But the ferry has yet to enter service half a decade later.

The ship was unfinished at the time of the launch and windows on the bridge were painted on to make the vessel appear more complete.

CMAL Chief Executive Kevin Hobbs has said the vessel was launched in to water too early, and that this added to the cost overrun.

Since then, the expected delivery date has been delayed by five years from May 2018 to May 2023 at the earliest, as the build has been beset with problems.

Conservatives Craig Hoy and Graham Simpson grilled FM Nicola Sturgeon over ferries fiasco.

Last month, Ferguson Marine confirmed that the most recent issue with construction would mean the ship, which was launched as the ‘UK’s most environmentally friendly ferry’, would have to run solely on diesel after it initially enters service.

Ferry operator CalMac has expressed concerns over the resilience and performance of the Glen Sannox once it’s finally delivered, as a result of the long delays to construction. And reports from ferry owner CMAL have warned faults present a ‘serious threat to the project’, leading to fears the ferry may never enter service.

The total costs associated with the MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 have soared from £97million to more than £250 million.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport Graham Simpson MSP, said:“The five year anniversary of a ferry launch should be a cause for celebration, but that will not be happening today.

“If the SNP had not botched this process at every single turn, then islanders could have enjoyed years of seamless travel by now.

“Instead, they have had to endure years of delays which has had a crippling effect on our island communities and they have little confidence that this nightmare will end anytime soon.

“CMAL bosses warned that launching the vessel at this time was premature, but their valid concerns fell on deaf ears.

“Nothing was ever getting in the way of a good photo-opportunity for the First Minister on this day five years ago.

“Senior SNP figures are too busy continuing to pass the blame around each other rather than taking responsibility for their monumental failures.

“That is why we urgently need a public inquiry to get to the truth of this fiasco once and for all.”

Quick recap of history: Kevin Hobbs said the launch of the vessel was premature at a session of the Public Audit Committee on 30 June 2022. A transcript of the exchange between him and Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy is below:

Kevin Hobbs, CMAL, at Public Accounts Committee on 30 June 2022. (link)

“There were mistakes made at the outset by the builder because it did not have approved drawings and, when the units were inspected, they were riddled with errors that had to be undone and then the job had to be done again.”

“Effectively, some of that was happening in the sheds, but if it is happening out on the berth, which is the new-build berth and the launch berth, that will cost twice as much and, if it is happening when the vessel is afloat, it costs four times as much. If you want to follow the money and see where the money has gone, I can tell you that, effectively, the money was wasted.” 

Craig Hoy MSP “I might have picked up what he said incorrectly, but I have a technical question for Kevin Hobbs. You said that you attribute a lot of the cost overruns to the fact that vessel 801 was put into the water, which meant that costs were more expensive. Are you implying that the vessel was launched too early?”

“Absolutely. There has been discussion about that. Our opinion, in line with normal shipbuilding practice, is that you should do as much as you can under cover in the first instance, you should join things up outside and you should do as much as you possibly can when the ship is dry—it is only then that you should launch the ship. I will put it very simply: we could not dictate to the yard what it should do, but, on 21 November, when vessel 801 was launched, we had very active discussions with Jim McColl’s team in which we said that the launch would be too premature.”

Fears were raised over the ferries never setting sail after further delays and rising costs emerged in September:  https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/homenews/22829878.threat-ferry-fiasco-ships-may-never-delivered-cost-taxpayer-soars-nearly-100m/

CalMac raised their concerns over the condition of the long delayed ferries in July this year: https://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/calmac-concerns-over-condition-of-long-delayed-ferry-glen-sannox-3770678

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