Yard's future

Ferguson hopeful of new orders after ferry launch

Glen Rosa hits the water after its launch by young welder Beth Atkinson

As the Glen Rosa slid into the Clyde to the cheers of a watching crowd, many of those who witnessed the launch of the troubled ferry were left wondering if they would return to see another ship built at the Ferguson Marine yard.

High winds caused a short delay that was seen as symptomatic of the problems that have beset the yard since work began in 2016.

The river pilot with the waiting tugs eventually decided it was safe enough to proceed and Beth Atkinson, a qualified welder who completed her apprenticeship at the yard, smashed a special bottling of Ardgowan blended malt whisky off the vessel’s hull to officially name the vessel.

However, the yard needs new work and CMal, the publicly-owned company that procures vessels for CalMac, the ferry operator, had been expected to place an order for seven small ferries with the Port Glasgow builder over Christmas.

Uncertainty over follow-up orders has put the future of the nationalised yard in doubt and amid the celebrations of yesterday’s launch there was a distinct lack of confidence that orders can be guaranteed.

The Glen Rosa will have capacity for up to 852 passengers plus 127 cars, or 16 heavy goods vehicles, or a combination of both. She is due to come into service in September 2025, six years behind schedule, as predicted in January by David Tydeman, who was sacked as chief executive last month for “performance-related issues”. The cost of the vessel and its sister ship the Glen Sannox is more than three times over budget.

Gary Cook from GMB Scotland said is urgning the Scottish government to create a pipeline of work that would “ensure shipbuilding on the Clyde continues for generations”, but the Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan, who attended the launch, stressed that the Scottish government had to abide by public procurement rules.

Asked if the yard, nationalised in 2019, had a future she said she had “confidence” but “not unmitigated confidence”.

She said she was about to review a business case for new investment in the yard designed to make it more competitive in the open market.

Glen Rosa will be delivered in September next year

“I have committed that ministers will leave no stone unturned when it comes to securing that future for Ferguson Marine,” she said.

Even the interim chief executive, John Petticrew, who was parachuted into the job after Mr Tydeman’s dismissal, admitted the yard had to be “more competitive, such that it is easier to get contracts.”

He said the controversy surrounding the year had made it a “hard sell” and that being able to deliver on time was crucial to winning the confidence of buyers.

However, he was hopeful that the yard’s fortunes could turn amid some interest in placing orders with Ferguson.

“We’ve had four or five significant shipping companies come in. They’ve very interested and there are companies who are willing to pay a small premium to build in Scotland,” he said.

Alba Party’s General Secretary Chris McEleny has warned it could be the last ever ship to be launched into the lower Clyde if the Scottish Government doesn’t act. 

Mr McEleny sat on the task force that saved the yard from closure in 2014 and has spent the past years campaigning for the Scottish Government to “directly award” contracts for Calmac Small vessels to the yard to ensure it has a future pipeline of work. 

Despite fears that without the work the yard will close the Scottish Government have failed to confirm it will directly award work to the Inverclyde yard. 

He has made a direct plea to Ms McAllan to save the yard from closure by providing and investment package and directly awarding the seven small Calmac ferries due for tender to the yard. 

He said: “Launches are supposed to be joyous moments but this launch happened against the backdrop that unless the Scottish Government intervenes with investment in the yard and guarantees that it will directly award new work to it then this will be the last vessel ever launched in the lower Clyde – bringing to an end centuries of proud shipbuilding tradition in Inverclyde. That would be a tragedy.”

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