YOU have reported that the small motor ship Countess Fiona is to be scrapped by her owners, West Dunbartonshire Council, at a cost to the council tax payers of #25,000. It beggars belief.

One would have imagined that they would be only too pleased to have preserved for them, within the district, an example, albeit small, of a ship built by the world renowned ''Denny of Dumbarton''. The vessel has had an amazing career. Built by Denny for the LMS Railway, and named Countess of Breadalbane, to sail on Loch Awe she was later brought to the Clyde to provide ferry services, subsequently sold to sail in open sea on the West Coast off Mull, and finally moved overland again to sail on Loch Lomond. Such a history is testimony to her original builders - men of Dumbarton. This appears lost on the present council.

My understanding of the long-running saga over the removal of the Countess from Balloch is that the council had/has a buyer for the ship, that group were/are prepared to fund the removal to Dumbarton within sight of her original building berth, but there are difficulties in getting her off the slipway where she has rested for many years. (One might ask why the council did not return her to the water when problems with the slip were first discovered.) There have also been administrative delays and misunderstandings - not an unusual event.

This must surely be a unique instance of paying the scrap-man for scrap which he is going to take away - I always thought that it was the other way round! If, as the council claim, the cost of removal to the purchasers, the local motor yacht club, is too high (something which they deny) would it not be better for the council to make a donation of the #25,000 to them? In doing so the club would have the ''club house'' and training facility it wants and at the same time preserve a part of Dumbarton's maritime history.

Before the tender is let for the scrapping of the Countess (assuming that it will go out to tender) the council should rethink its decision and resolve whatever differences exist between them and the club, and then, if they don't donate the cost of scrapping as suggested, the money could well be spent on other badly needed projects in the area.

R Black,

37 Castle Avenue, Balloch. August 31.

MAY I be permitted to correct a number of inaccuracies which appeared in the report on the Loch Lomond cruise vessel, the Countess Fiona, which West Dunbartonshire Council officials have recommended be broken up (August 27)?

Since October 1998, members of Dumbarton Motor Boat and Sailing Club have sought to purchase this vessel and move it from Balloch, where it languishes on the slipway, to the River Leven at Dumbarton. Our intention has always been to provide the public with a facility at that historic maritime site which has not existed for generations. Moreover, we are keen to involve local youngsters in gaining skills in boat maintenance and other maritime skills which, we would hope, would divert them away from other pursuits such as drugs and petty crime.

Sadly, our dealings with the council in trying to achieve something positive, in what is a very run-down area, have led us to question their motives. To say we have faced bureaucratic obfuscation would be putting it mildly. At first, our offer was refused; then it was accepted; then a decision was made for officers to help the club with their purchase, which they didn't do, and then, bizarrely, conditions were set that only two members of DMBSC would be allowed access to the boat to do repairs and only then, during working hours. Following that, a request by the club to lease the land so that liability would be taken away from the council was also refused.

Estimates for moving the boat have varied wildly and quotes for the club then rose dramatically after contractors met with council officials. Despite the legal requirement that contracts over the sum of #15,000 must go out to tender, this hasn't been done. Also, we believe that the quote of #25,000 as the cost for scrapping her is a gross underestimate as it hasn't, among other things, taken account of the potential contamination risks of breaking up a 100-ton vessel at an environmentally sensitive site. The assertion by the Depute Provost, Geoff Calvert, then, that scrapping this historical boat is the cheapest option, has been made without a scrap of evidence.

Recently, requests by DMBSC for meetings with the council have been refused and correspondence has gone unanswered. Why council officials have followed this extraordinary course is a matter only they can answer. In the meantime, we believe that to destroy one of the few remaining ships bearing the hallmark ''Denny's of Dumbarton'' would be to commit an act of extreme vandalism and would deny the town and people of Dumbarton a much-needed attraction.

James Gillespie,

29 Barrs Terrace, Cardross. August 31.