The GMB union said workers were told they were being made redundant with immediate effect when they turned up for work this morning at the yard in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde. Only seven workers will be retained as a skeleton staff while the receivers try to find a buyer.
GMB official Alex Logan said staff were "shocked and stunned" to lose their jobs at a yard that dates back to 1902 and in a community on the Lower Clyde once famed for its shipbuilding industry.
The yard's doors were locked this morning and workers were sent home to break the news to their families, with some said to be in tears.
One man said: "Just spoken to a visibly shaken 21-year-old apprentice worried for their future and he says the announcement was a 'bombshell'." Another man took to social media to say: "Last of the lower Clyde shipyard. 20-odd years of my father's life, gone."
The announcement provoked a powerful attack from a senior union official against the First Minister.
Jim Moohan, chairman of the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (CSEU) in Scotland and GMB Scotland senior organiser, said that there had been concerns for some time about the amount of work on the yard's books and that more should have been done to safeguard the yard's future.
He said: "This is the end of commercial shipbuilding in Scotland. The yard has struggled for work for a number of years now and the Scottish government gave us an assurance that the work would be there and the yard would survive.
"There was a personal commitment from the First Minister that the workforce would be protected and that work would remain. This is a scandal and Alex Salmond should deliver a personal apology to each and every one of these men today."
Mr Moohan said he met Keith Brown MSP, the Minister for Transport, on Wednesday and the future of Fergusons's had been discussed, but there was no hint that recervership was on the horizon.
He said that it was now vital that any work be brought forward and given to the yard, and that the Scottish Government should disregard European Union rules on tendering for large contracts to ensure that shipbuilding remained in operation on the lower Clyde.
He said: "The CSEU is issuing a direct challenge to the Minister to intervene on behalf of the Scottish Government. Regardless of EU guidelines, he has the right to intervene.
"He should meet the CSEU and give us firm assurances over Ferguson's future. This is still a viable, working yard and he has the opportunity to show the people of Scotland that he can do something when push comes to shove."
Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said a task force was being set up to look at securing new opportunities for the yard.
"The loss of any jobs in Port Glasgow is a devastating blow and we will work closely with the administrator to deliver an integrated service to those losing their jobs," he said.
"We will also convene a task force which will aim to secure new opportunities for this commercial shipyard on the Clyde. I have spoken to the leader of the council and we have agreed to work together on the task force to secure these opportunities. I will visit Port Glasgow on Monday to start this process.
"The yard facilities, along with the expertise and experience of the workforce, are significant assets. The Scottish Government and partners have a strong track record of engagement in the local area to secure employment.
"Over the past two and a half years we has supported Ferguson Shipbuilders with contracts worth more than £20 million for two new hybrid ferries.
"We will do everything we can to promote a strong future for commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde and remain hopeful that a new owner can be found to continue the proud tradition and innovative engineering of Ferguson Shipbuilders."
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "My sympathy goes out to all the workers at the Ferguson shipyard whose jobs are threatened and we will do all we can to prevent the closure of the yard.
"Scotland's shipbuilding industry is a vital part of our economy and supports many well paid jobs, but it is still largely dependent on defence contracts and this latest blow highlights just how difficult it is to win other contracts.
"But I believe we can still save this shipyard and every avenue must be explored. We stand ready to work with the Scottish Government and do all we can to prevent job losses as a matter of priority."
Scottish Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde Duncan McNeil said: "This was sad and shocking news that came out of the blue. I came down to the yard as soon as I heard and have spoken with the workforce and shop stewards and I have assured them that Scottish Labour won't give up the fight for the last shipyard on the lower Clyde.
"I have met with the administrators and the leader of the council and we hope to meet with Scottish ministers next week to get their support to save these jobs and prevent the yard from closing."
SNP MSP for West of Scotland Stuart McMillan said: "This is terrible news for Ferguson Shipbuilders and all the workers who face an uncertain future.
"As someone who was brought up in Port Glasgow and is fully aware of what shipbuilding means to the area I am devastated for all those involved.
"I was hoping the order for two hybrid ferries, from the Scottish Government, was going to be a springboard for more opportunities for the yard.
"I have been in contact with John Swinney and the Scottish Government to ask for their support and I know they will do everything possible to help keep Ferguson's working and I also intend to raise the matter in the Scottish Parliament next week."
Blair Nimmo and Tony Friar of KPMG have been appointed as joint administrators of Ferguson Shipbuilders.
Mr Nimmo, head of restructuring for KPMG in Scotland, said: "Ferguson Shipbuilders is a leading name in the industry with a rich heritage dating back more than 110 years and is the last commercial shipbuilder operating on the River Clyde.
"The group's infrastructure and unique offering has earned it global success in recent years, principally from the building of two 'world first' diesel hybrid ferries. However, a lack of significant orders and mounting cash flow pressure has led to the group's inability to continue trading.
"We would like to thank staff for their co-operation during this difficult period. We will be working with employees and the relevant Government agencies to ensure that the full range of support is available to all those affected."
BAE's yards at Scotstoun and Govan further up the Clyde are still open but only deal with military orders.