Major Calmac Ferry Replacement Project Begins

By: Gary Andrews
LOCH FYNE. Image: Gary Andrews
LOCH FYNE. Image: Gary Andrews

The first moves have been made to replace many of the older vessels operating on the Caledonian MacBrayne routes around Scotland. This will lead to a substantial renewal of the small vessel fleet during the next 10 years.

Phase One

In late 2020 Transport Scotland approved a strategic business case for Phase One of the Small Vessel Replacement Programme (SVRP). Working with that organisation and CalMac, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), is commencing a major programme to replace small ‘loch class’ vessels serving the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network.

The scope of this first phase covers the following vessels. This will require a series of newbuilds but some existing vessels may also be redeployed around the network meaning that it may not be routes listed below that receive the new tonnage.

VesselCurrent route
MV LOCH RIDDONLargs-Cumbrae (second vessel, summer only)
MVLOCH RANZATayinloan-Gigha
MV LOCH DUNVEGANColintraive-Rhubodach
MV LOCH FYNEMallaig-Armadale (summer only)
MV LOCH TARBERTTobermory-Kilchoan
MV LOCH LINNHErelief vessel

Appointing naval architects

CMAL is publishing a contract notice this week for naval architect consultancy services to support its vessels team with the concept design and planning stage.

It is envisaged that the procurement process for the first of the vessels will begin in the next 12 months, subject to the completion and approval of an outline business base.

The Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan requires increased standardisation in the fleet. This will be focussed in the areas of hull design, propulsion and internal lay out. The result will be improved reliability, resilience, accessibility and capacity across the fleet.

Key to this will be that vessels can be more easily moved between routes to cover operational and commercial needs.

LOCH LINNHE. Image: Gary Andrews
LOCH LINNHE. Image: Gary Andrews

Engaging communities

There will be robust engagement with relevant stakeholders and communities to provide updates and ensure the needs of users are reflected where practical and affordable in the design and construction phases.

The use of virtual meetings and live webinars, introduced during the Covid pandemic, will be continued to ease the challenges of dealing with the wide geographical area involved.

A Reference Group for the programme as a whole will be established with key stakeholders to provide updates and to seek views at the network level. This is likely to include relevant local authorities, regional transport partnerships (RTPs) and third-party port owners.

Environmentally-friendly vessels

The project will be in line Scottish Government climate change commitments. It is envisaged that low emission vessels utilising the latest proven battery and on shore charging technologies will be deployed.

CMAL and CalMac already have significant experience and knowledge gained from the HALLAIG, LOCHINVAR and CATRIONA. These three electric-hybrid vessels were delivered by Ferguson Shipbuilders, Glasgow between 2013 and 2016.

Feasibility studies will be carried out to understand which ports within the small vessel network are viable for such vessels. Work would need to be undertaken such as the installation of the necessary power and equipment to charge the vessels and / or accommodate energy storage systems.

The viability and cost of these upgrades could influence where new vessels are deployed. This may result in a fleet cascade where other routes receive new tonnage to release ships to replace the oldest tonnage elsewhere.

Phase Two

The second phase of the SVRP will see replacement vessels to serve the Sound of Barra, Sound of Harris and Sound of Iona routes. However, during Phase One CMAL will investigate a vessel design that complies with changed regulatory requirements for the Sound of Iona.

On the Barra, Harris and Iona routes the vessels and/or infrastructure required will need to meet higher regulatory standards than the current vessels; “Euro B” rather than “Euro C”.

CMAL say that efficient timing for Phase Two is vital in case significant infrastructure solutions or novel vessel designs are going to be considered among the options, together with cost associated cost implications.

LOCH DUNVEGAN. Image: Gary Andrews
LOCH DUNVEGAN. Image: Gary Andrews

Reducing average fleet age

Kevin Hobbs, Chief Executive, CMAL said:

“This is a highly ambitious and much-needed vessel renewal programme.  Significant investment is required to reduce the average age of the vessel fleet and this plan is a major step towards our aim of bringing down the age of the fleet from 23 to 16 years.  We are in the early stages of planning, but we’ve progressed at a good pace and we intend to continue with the current momentum to tender for shipbuilding contracts within the next year.

“Ferries are lifeline services and I expect island communities will welcome this news; they need safe, reliable and efficient services.  The replacement of the small vessels forms part of our wider investment plans for ferry infrastructure, which also includes replacement of six major vessels, as well as modernising harbours.  We know what needs to be done and it is our aim to achieve as much as we can within the next decade.”
LOCH STRIVEN. Image: Gary Andrews
LOCH STRIVEN. Image: Gary Andrews

CMAL say that relevant lessons learned from previous vessel delivery projects will be applied. The procurement of two vessels from Ferguson shipyard has been deemed a fiasco and the previously mentioned hybrid-electric ferries from the same yard were delivered late and over budget, Independent assurance reviews will be carried out at key milestones.

Full details of the project can be found at

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