Sourcing second-hand vessels isn’t plain sailing

Kevin Hobbs, CEO

Last month we announced the purchase of second-hand vessel MV Utne, which will be deployed on the Clyde and Hebrides network, bringing extra resilience to our fleet of ferries.

The vessel will need to undergo some minor modifications once it arrives in Scotland to make it fully compliant with Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) regulations. In addition, works need to be carried out to allow regular mooring, and ensure the vessel has appropriate interface with the port facilities. Once these have been completed, it will be joining our fleet and is earmarked for the Oban – Craignure route.

Second-hand vessels are one way to bring extra resilience to the fleet. However, sourcing one is not a simple process. We are actively searching the global market for second-hand vessels, and in the last 17 months, we have considered 133 ships. Yet despite the availability of vessels on the market, there are several constraints that often mean integration into the network is not possible.

For example, the majority of ferry ports in the west coast have a very shallow draft, some as limiting as 3 metres. As well as the depth of the hull, we must consider the length of the vessel. Port Askaig has a limit of 95 metres and so berthing larger vessels at some ports would require significant infrastructure development and further investment, which is often not feasible.

We must also consider the interface between ship and shore. Some vessels may have offset ramps which are designed to fit some ports but not others, and the cargo our vessels carry can vary widely too. European lorries, for example, are built to different dimensions than our UK ones, therefore ferries in Europe often have restricted headroom for some UK HGVs.

We will continue to monitor the global market and actively pursue suitable opportunities. However, we also have a significant plan of investment underway. This will deliver 21 new purpose-built vessels for the fleet, and multi-million-pound upgrade of harbour infrastructure in the next 10 years. Our plan is backed by a £580 million commitment from the Scottish Government for a five-year period from 2021/22 until 2025/26. However this is not enough to deliver our plans, and we are already working with Scottish Government to assure that there are the appropriate funding streams from 2026/27 and beyond.