The Western Isles are set to benefit from a new £41.8 million cutting-edge ferry serving the Stornoway-Ullapool route.
Transport minister Keith Brown announced the news on Friday and said that the new vessel would be faster and more reliable than current vessels.
It is being commissioned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) and is designed to accommodate the growth in traffic.
The new vessel will also consume a quarter less fuel than the two ferries it replaces - the MV Isle of Lewis passenger ferry and the MV Muirneag freight ferry.
Mr Brown said the announcement sees a significant investment of nearly £42 million in Scotland’s ferry fleet and builds on work being driven forward to enhance and upgrade Scotland’s ferry services.
He added: "The new 116m long vessel will be able to carry up to 700 passengers, 143 cars or 20 commercial vehicles and be capable of operating 24 hours a day. It will be faster, quieter and more reliable in bad weather. This greater capacity, an increase of some 20% on current car and freight capacity, can be adapted further to increase sailing capacity if demand grows on the route.
"The cutting edge design means the new vessel will be more fuel efficient and use a quarter less fuel than the combined fuel consumption of both vessels currently in operation. The new vessel will also incorporate new enhanced technical reliability which will allow maintenance during operation in turn minimising down time.
"Combining all of the benefits of the new vessel with the upgrades to both Stornoway and Ullapool harbours being taken forward with harbour trusts, will mean users on this vital route can soon look forward to an enhanced package of ferry facilities.
"To provide complete comfort, I can also assure local communities that the new vessel, which is due to take over running of freight and passenger services in 2014, will be backed up by the MV Isle of Lewis which will remain on standby following the introduction of the new vessel for the foreseeable future and until users are satisfied with the reliability and resilience of the new vessel and her operation."
The commissioning of the new ferry, by CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd), fulfils a commitment in the Scottish Government’s draft ferries plan.
CMAL are scheduled to deliver the new vessel in June 2014 and it will go into service shortly after this. Arrangements will be put in place to provide sufficient freight carrying capacity when MV Muirneag leaves service in October 2013.
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