The procurement process for a new ferry which will serve Islay – estimated to cost £50m – has begun, Transport Scotland has announced.
The first stage will assess if interested shipyards meet the criteria to take the project on, before an invitation to tender is issued later this year.
In the past year, the procurement process for ferries has come under scrutiny following issues with two vessels from the publicly-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard in Inverclyde.
Following an inquiry, Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee described the process as a “catastrophic failure” – a charge the Scottish Government denied.
On Wednesday, transport minister Graeme Dey said: “I’m pleased to announce the process to build a new ferry for Islay is formally under way.
“The route is one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network and this new vessel will help to grow the island’s economy, as well as bring added resilience to the fleet.
“This underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to bringing in new ferries to support our island communities.
“We look forward to continuing to work with key stakeholders to develop programmes for major vessels and small vessels – investing at least £580m over the next five years.”
The working group for the project held two engagement sessions with the Islay community, as well as a Q&A.
Jim Anderson, director of vessels at Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited – the Scottish Government-backed body charged with procuring vessels – said: “Reaching the procurement stage is the culmination of robust project planning over the past 18 months, including vessel requirements, detailed concept design options and feasibility studies and analysis, as well as regular engagement with community representatives and islanders.
“This marks an important step forward in bringing a new vessel to Islay and Jura. It is one of several new vessel and harbour upgrade projects we are currently progressing to improve the resilience of ferry services for island communities.”
Robbie Drummond, managing director of ferry operator CalMac, welcomed the addition of a new vessel, which he said would “provide much-needed additional capacity on the route to support the economic growth of the island”.