New Ferry Purchased for CalMac Scottish Island Services

Scottish Government controlled Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) has confirmed that it has agreed to purchase a Norwegian ferry for use by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac).  The ship, MV UTNE, is earmarked for the Oban – Craignure (Isle of Mull) route.  The 50m-long ferry is presently owned by Norled.  That company is in the process of replacing its fleet with battery-electric ferries.

CMAL will take control of UTNE around the end of October 2021.  The ship, which was only delivered in 2015 by Turkish yard Sefine, carries both passengers and vehicles.  The total cost of the deal will be £9m, this includes modifications costing around £3.4m.  There has been no indication, yet, of where these modifications will take place. 

Commenting on the agreement, Scottish Minister for Transport Graeme Dey said:

“I’m very pleased to announce that MV Utne has been purchased by CMAL to join the ferry fleet serving the Clyde and Hebrides network.  We have always said we would look to the second hand market for additional vessels to support our island communities, and this purchase is the result of this ongoing work.

“The Scottish Government has committed £580 million to fund new ferries and port investments over the next five years. We continue to work with CMAL and CalMac to develop potential programmes that will deliver additional improvements to the network.”

False starts

Along with LOCH SEAFORTH, UTNE will be the youngest member of the fleet when she joins CalMac.  The company has been criticised in the past due to a perceived lack of an adequate fleet replacement programme.  Over half of the operator’s fleet is over 25 years old, with the oldest member ISLE OF CUMBRAE dating from 1977.

Despite considering over 130 ferries on the second hand market over a period of 17 months, CMAL had failed to find any suitable for CalMac service according to a statement earlier in the year.  The company did subsequently take another look at one of those vessels, PENTALINA, however.

Although PENTALINA had what appeared to be successful berthing trials at several CalMac ports, an agreement could not be reached with owner Pentland Ferries.  The Mull and Iona Ferry Committee also proposed acquiring and adapting a new-build catamaran under construction in Indonesia.  This was also ruled out as the vessel was deemed to be unsuitable.

According to Kevin Hobbs, chief executive at CMAL:

“The search for a suitable second hand vessel has been long and challenging, and we’ve experienced a few false starts. But we are glad to bring this much-needed second hand tonnage to the fleet to provide the operator, CalMac, with some resilience.

“MV Utne has been operating successfully, with a fully complaint passenger certificate from the Norwegian Maritime Board. The vessel has operated for five years in Norwegian waters and that offers us confidence in its compliance, safety and operability.”

CalMac has not yet given a firm date for introducing UTNE into service, but modifications are not expected to be completed until early 2022.  Once modified, crew training and familiarisation will also need to take place.  The ship will also need to gain certification from the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Possible Timetable and Crewing Changes

Neither CMAL or CalMac has yet said whether the UTNE will be renamed for CalMac service, though it seems likely she will get an appropriate Scottish place name.  Her introduction on the Craignure route is expected to be as second ship to the larger ISLE OF MULL.  

Although the timetable has yet to be finalised, it is understood that UTNE will be stationed at Craignure year-round.  This will release CORUISK, which usually serves the route during summer, for use elsewhere.  This in turn will allow other tonnage to be cascaded.

Lounge area onboard Norled’s UTNE. Image: Norled.

Unlike other CalMac vessels, UTNE’s crew will live ashore rather than onboard the ferry. In Norwegian service, UTNE sails for around 18 hours per day with two crews working 9 hour shifts each day.  Should CalMac emulate that pattern, which could allow the ship to complete 9 round trips per day, this would increase total capacity on the route in real terms despite UTNE having less passenger capacity than CORUISK.  This would require a significant change to CalMac’s crewing model, however.  Unlike many other CalMac vessels, there are no crew cabins onboard UTNE.  

According to Robbie Drummond, Managing Director of CalMac:

“The addition of the MV Utne to the CalMac fleet is extremely welcome and will bring much-needed resilience to the network. We will continue to work closely with Transport Scotland and CMAL to determine how best MV Utne can support our delivery of lifeline services.”

The release of CORUISK could potentially have benefits for the communities on Skye and the Western Isles through the cascading of tonnage.  This would be welcomed given criticism in recent years directed at Caledonian MacBrayne for unreliability and a lack of capacity. 

UTNE Technical Details

The following capacity figures are provided by current owner Norled and may be subject to change for UK service.

Name:UTNE
Built:2015 by Sefine, Yalova, Turkey
DesignLMG Marine (LMG-40-DE)
Length:49.9m
Beam:39.5m
Gross Tonnage:1,160
Propulsion2 x Scania DI16M Diesel engines
2 x Veth Propulsion VZ-700-CR Azimuth propulsion units
Speed:12 kts max
Passenger Capacity195
Car Capacity:40
(Can also carry up to 4 freight trailers)